George Floyd Family’s Complaint Against the City of Minneapolis Over His Death: Count III       

As noted in a prior post, on July 15, the family of George Floyd filed a federal civil action with two claims (Counts II and III) for money damages against the City of Minneapolis and one claim (Count I) against the four ex-police officers who were involved in Floyd’s death—Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng. This post will discuss Count III.[1] while Counts I and  II were discussed in prior posts.

Legal Basis

Count III is asserted against the City of Minneapolis under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, which states as follows:

  • “Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .”

Count III also is based upon so-called “Canton Liability,” which refers to the U.S. Supreme Court case, Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378 (1989), which held that a municipality may be held liable under section 1983 for constitutional violations resulting from its failure to train its employees where such failure to train in a relevant respect amounts to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of persons with whom the police come into contact.

Factual Allegations

The Parties

“6. Plaintiff Kaarin Nelson Schaffer (“Schaffer”) resides in Hennepin county, Minnesota, and is an attorney duly licensed to practice before the State and Federal; Courts of Minnesota. On July 6, 2020, Schaffer was appointed as trustee for George Floyd’s next of kin.”

“7. Mr. Floyd is survived by next of kin including his children and siblings.”

“8. Minneapolis is and was at all times material hereto a political subdivision of the State of Minnesota, organized and existing under and by virtue of the laws of Minnesota.”

“9. The Minneapolis Police Department (“MPD”) is and was at all times material hereto a Minneapolis agency, providing the vehicle through which the City fulfills its policing functions.”

“Count III – 42 U.S.C. §1983 – Canton Liability”

“247. Plaintiff hereby incorporates and re-alleges all preceding paragraphs as though fully pleaded herein.”

“248.Minneapolis failed to properly train or modify its training to Defendant Officers and its other officers, including but not limited to, matters related to the reasonable and appropriate use of force during such arrests, and intervention in the excessive use offorce by fellow officers.”

“249. Effectuating an arrest, using force to effectuate an arrest, and intervening in the use of force is a usual and recurring situation with which Minneapolis law enforcement officers and other agents encounter on a regular basis.”

“250. As such, Minneapolis was aware of a need for more and different training.Minneapolis specifically knew that its officers needed training regarding the use of prone restraint and was required to provide its officers with such training.”

“251. Minneapolis also specifically knew that its officers needed specific training on the use of neck restraints.”

“252. With deliberate indifference to the rights of citizens, Minneapolis failed to provide adequate training to its officers on the use of prone and neck restraint.”

“253.Minneapolis was aware that deprivation of the constitutional rights of citizens was likely to result from its lack of training and the failure to modify its training.”

“254. As such, Minneapolis was deliberately indifferent and exhibited reckless disregard with respect to the potential violation of constitutional rights.”

“255. The failure to train and/or to appropriately modify training constituted official Minneapolis policies, practices, or customs.”

“256. Minneapolis’s failure to train and/or to modify training was behind the acts and omissions the Defendant Officers made toward Mr. Floyd.”

“257. As a direct and proximate result of Minneapolis’s acts and omissions, Mr. Floyd suffered injuries, experienced pain and suffering, and ultimately died.”

“258. As a direct and proximate result of the acts and omissions described herein, Mr. Floyd suffered compensatory and special damages as defined under federal common law and in an amount to be determined by jury.”

“259. Plaintiff is entitled to recovery of costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.”

“260. The conduct described in all of the preceding paragraphs amount to wrongful acts and omissions for purposes of Minnesota Statute Section 573.02, subdivision 1.”

“261. As a direct and proximate result of these wrongful acts and omissions, Mr. Floyd’s next of kin have suffered pecuniary loss, including medical and funeral expenses,loss of aid, counsel, guidance, advice, assistance, protection, and support in an amount to be determined by jury.“

Conclusion

All of the legal references and assertions by the parties, of course, are subject to legal research to determine their current validity in light of any subsequent federal statutes and decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and lower federal courts, especially by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota and its direct appellate court (the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit).As previously noted, Count I of this Complaint against the four ex-officers and Count II against the City have been covered in prior posts.[2]

Now we await the defendants’ responses to this Complaint and other further developments in this civil case and in the criminal cases against the four ex-officers.

==========================================

[1] Read the lawsuit filed by family of George Floyd against Minneapolis, four ex-police officers, StarTribune (July 15, 2020).

[2] George Floyd Family’s Complaint Against the Four Ex-Police Officers Over His Death, dwkcommentaries.com (July  17, 2020); George Floyd Family’s Complaint Against the City of Minneapolis Over His Death: Count II, dwkcommentaries.com (July 18, 2020).

 

George Floyd Family’s Complaint Against the City of Minneapolis Over His Death: Count II     

As noted in a prior post, on July 15, the family of George Floyd filed a federal civil action with two claims (Counts II and III) for money damages against the City of Minneapolis. This post will discuss Count II while Count III will be covered in a subsequent post. That civil action also asserted one claim (Count I) against the four ex-police officers who were involved in Floyd’s death—Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng– as discussed in another prior post.

Legal Basis [1]

Count II is asserted against the City of Minneapolis under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, which states as follows:

  • “Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .”

Count II also is based on so-called “Monell Liability,” which refers to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Monell v. Department of Soc. Svcs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), that held, “Local governing bodies (and local officials sued in their official capacities) can . . .be sued directly under § 1983 for monetary, declaratory, and injunctive relief in those situations where, as here, the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted or promulgated by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy. In addition, local governments, like every other § 1983 “person,” may be sued for constitutional deprivations visited pursuant to governmental “custom” even though such custom has not received formal approval through the government’s official decision-making channels.”

Factual Allegations [2]

The Parties

“6. Plaintiff Kaarin Nelson Schaffer (“Schaffer”) resides in Hennepin county, Minnesota, and is an attorney duly licensed to practice before the State and Federal; Courts of Minnesota. On July 6, 2020, Schaffer was appointed as trustee for George Floyd’s next of kin.”

“7. Mr. Floyd is survived by next of kin including his children and siblings.”

“8. Minneapolis is and was at all times material hereto a political subdivision of the State of Minnesota, organized and existing under and by virtue of the laws of Minnesota.”

“9. The Minneapolis Police Department (“MPD”) is and was at all times material hereto a Minneapolis agency, providing the vehicle through which the City fulfills its policing functions.

MPD Trains its Officers to Use Deadly force in Non-Deadly Circumstances

“86. MPD trained its officers that a ‘neck restraint’ was an authorized form of non-deadly force, and that a ‘chokehold’ was a form of deadly force capable of causing serious bodily injury and/or death.” [3]

“87. At all times material hereto, MPD defined a ‘neck restraint’ as ‘[c]ompressing one or both sides of a person’s neck with an arm or leg, without applying direct pressure to the trachea or airway (front of the neck).’ MPD defined a ‘chokehold’ as ‘applying direct pressure on a person’s trachea or airway (front of the neck).’”

“88. At all times material hereto, MPD trained its officers that a proper ‘neck Restraint’ required the officer to ‘[c]ompress veins. arteries, nerves & muscles of the neck.'”

“89. Serious bodily injury and/or death is reasonably likely to result from an officer ‘compress[ing] a person’s veins, arteries, nerves & muscles of the neck,’ regardless of whether direct pressure is applied to the front or back of the neck.”

“90. The use of a ‘neck restraint’ as defined by MPD constitutes deadly force.”

“91. The Fourth Amendment prohibits the use of deadly force in non-deadly circumstances which do not pose an immediate threat of serious bodily injury and/or death.”

“92. At all times material hereto, MPD’s written policies authorized the use of a deadly ‘neck restraint’ in non-deadly circumstances posing no immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death.”

“93. At all times material hereto, MPD trained its officers that use of a ‘neck restraint’ was authorized non-deadly force which officers could use in non-deadly situations.”

“94. It has long been known by the law enforcement community that the use of neck restraints on subjects can lead to death.”

“95. However, from at least April 15, 2012 until June 8, 2020, Minneapolis Police Department Policy 5-311 defined a neck restraint as ‘non-deadly force’ and did not warn it can cause death.”

“96. By policy, the MPD permitted and condoned the use of both conscious and unconscious neck restraints by its officers from at least April 15, 2012 until June 8, 2020.”

“97. At all times material hereto, MPD’s written policies authorized the use of a ‘neck restraint’ in non-deadly circumstances posing no immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death.”

“98. The City of Minneapolis possessed data indicating that since 2012, neck restraints/holds were used by its police officers on 428 people at an average rate of about one a week.”

“99. Of those 428 people, 14% who were subjected to a neck restraint/hold lost consciousness.”

“100. Upon information and belief, MPD officers regularly used neck restraints on passively resisting arrestees despite not being permitted to do so under policy.”

“101. Training offered by the City of Minneapolis in 2014 and received by Chauvin and Thao authorized and instructed on the use of neck restraints by officers, presented it to officers as a ‘non-deadly force’ option, and included instruction on how to employ neck restraints in order to most efficiently render subjects unconscious.”

“102. Upon information and belief, all training offered by the City of Minneapolis on the use of neck restraints, including that provided to the Defendant Officers, presented neck restraints to officers as a ‘non-deadly force’ option, and included instruction on how-to employ neck restraints in order to most efficiently render subjects unconscious.”

“103.Training offered by the City of Minneapolis to MPD officers, including the Defendant Officers, encouraged officers to “compress veins, arteries, nerves, and muscles of the neck” of arrestees.”

“104.Training materials offered to officers in 2014, including Defendants Chauvin and Thao, depict an officer placing a knee on the neck of an arrestee who is handcuffed in a prone position.”

“105. Since at least April 16, 2012, MPD policy has required that ‘[a]fter a neck restraint or choke hold has been used on a subject, sworn MPD employees shall keep them under close observation until they are released to medical or other law enforcement personnel.”

“106. Since at least April 16, 2012, the MPD failed to provide its officers with proper policy guidance and training on how to properly observe and attend to the medical needs of arrestees subjected to neck restraints.”

“107. At all times material hereto, MPD trained its officers that a ‘neck restraint’ could be used in non-deadly situations despite the fact that it constituted deadly force as utilized by MPD.”

Prone Restraint Training by the MPD and the Death of David Smith

“108. It is well known throughout the law enforcement and medical communities that holding a subject in a position of prone restraint for prolonged periods of time can be deadly.”

“109. Compressing an arrestee in a prone position with weight on their back and/or abdomen restricts their ability to breathe and can result in asphyxiation.”

“110. Deaths caused by this form of asphyxiation are often interchangeably referred to as deaths from positional, mechanical, or compression asphyxia, even if technical distinctions exist.“

“111. The United States Department of Justice has warned law enforcement for decades about the dangers of prone restraint and as early as 1995: ‘The risk of positional asphyxia is compounded when an individual with predisposing factors becomes involved in a violent struggle with an officer or officers, particularly when physical restraint includes behind-the-back handcuffing combined with placing the subject in a stomach-down position. National Law Enforcement Technology Center, Positional Asphyxia—Sudden Death at *2 (June 1995).”

“112. These dangers were acknowledged in an October 18, 2012 deposition by then-MPD Chief Timothy Dolan in addition to many other high-ranking officers in the matter of Smith v. Gorman, Case No. 11-cv-3071 (SRN/JJK).”

“113. Due to the well-known risks associated with prone restraint, it has long been national best practice that once a subject is controlled, it is imperative that they be moved from the prone position, and that their breathing be assessed.”

“114. Minneapolis has had a policy in place addressing this issue since at least May 29, 2002: ‘When ANY restraint technique is used on a subject, the subject shall not be left in a prone position and shall be placed on their side as soon as they are secured. Once the subject is secured, an officer shall watch for any of the following signs:

  • Significant change in behavior or level consciousness;
  • Shortness of breath or irregular breathing;
  • Seizures or convulsions;
  • Complaints of serious pain or injury; and/or
  • Any other serious medical problem.’

MPD Policy & Procedure Manual § 9-111.01 (emphasis in original).”

“115. Despite this knowledge, as of 2012, officers were not provided official training on the dangers of positional or mechanical asphyxia associated with prone restraint.”

“116. As of 2012, officers were trained that if a subject in a prone restraint is speaking, that they need not be concerned that the subject may be having difficulty breathing.”

“117. Despite the well-known risk of death associated with placing a subject in prolonged prone restraint, particularly without properly monitoring their medical condition, Mr. Floyd was not the first black man to be killed by MPD officers under such circumstances.”

“118. On September 9, 2010, veteran MPD Officers Timothy Gorman (“Gorman”)and Timothy Callahan (“Callahan”) responded to the Minneapolis YMCA, where David Smith (“Mr. Smith”) was experiencing the effects of mental illness.”

“119. Rather than use de-escalation techniques, Gorman and Callahan immediately went hands on with Mr. Smith and subjected him to five Taser deployments in addition to other force.”

“120. Gorman and Callahan placed Mr. Smith a prone restraint position with his hands handcuffed behind his back.”

“121. Despite Smith being handcuffed and adequately controlled, Mr. Smith was restrained in a prone position by Callahan and Gorman for at least 4 ½ minutes, with Gorman kneeling on Mr. Smith’s back and Callahan straddling Mr. Smith’s upper thigh/buttocks region.”

“122. Despite the fact that Callahan and Gorman had Smith adequately controlled, they failed to monitor Mr. Smith’s breathing or medical condition throughout their restraint of Mr. Smith.”

“123. Rather than assist Mr. Smith, Callahan berated him, calling him a ‘mother fucker.’”

“124. It was 6 and ½ minutes before either Callahan or Gorman made any effort to check on Mr. Smith’s medical condition.”

“125. Mr. Smith was pulseless, breathless, and lifeless by the time Callahan and Gorman finally made the effort to observe Mr. Smith’s medical condition.”

“126. Paramedics were able to resuscitate Mr. Smith’s heart, but he never regained consciousness and was removed from life support and officially died on September 17,2010.”

“127. Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Baker determined that the manner of death was homicide, and that the cause of death was anoxic encephalopathy due to or as a consequence of cardiopulmonary arrest due to or as a consequence of mechanical asphyxia.”

“128. Callahan filmed the mechanical asphyxiation of Mr. Smith on a personal and non-departmentally issued ‘pen camera’ that Callahan wore in his short pocket.”

“129. Callahan and Gorman were both aware of the fact that Callahan filmed Mr. Smith’s asphyxiation on the pen camera, yet the pen camera was intentionally concealed from MPD investigators on September 9, 2010.”

“130. Callahan did not disclose the existence of the pen camera video of Mr. Smith’s asphyxiation until nearly a week later on September 15, 2010, but was not disciplined for concealing evidence of a homicide.”

“131. MPD pretended to conduct a homicide investigation into the acts of Callahan and Gorman but made no legitimate effort to investigate the actions of the officers.”

“132. The Grand Jury no-billed Gorman and Callahan due to the complete and utter lack of investigation conducted by the MPD as to Gorman and Callahan’s conduct.”

“133. The MPD Internal Affairs Unit then conducted no legitimate investigation into Gorman and Callahan’s conduct, also concluding that the officers did nothing actionably wrong—including the hiding of evidence (i.e., the pen camera) from investigators.”

“134. The MPD failed to take any disciplinary or other remedial action towards Callahan and Gorman despite the fact that multiple high-ranking officials within the MPD observed obvious constitutional or policy violations by officers Gorman and Callahan.”

“135. The City of Minneapolis ultimately approved a substantial settlement to the family of David Smith to resolve that litigation, one of the highest amounts it had ever paid.”

“136. As part of that settlement, the City of Minneapolis “agreed to require its sworn police officers to undergo training on positional asphyxia in the 2014 training cycle of the Minneapolis Police Department…”

“137.Despite publicly stating an intent to properly instruct its officers on the risks of asphyxiation during arrest, internally the MPD continued to minimize that risk and promote a false narrative that deaths like David Smith were the result of ‘excited delirium’ instead of asphyxiation.”

“138. Upon information and belief, the City of Minneapolis did not comply with the terms and/or the spirit of its 2013 Settlement Agreement with the family of Mr. Smith with respect to training on positional asphyxia.”

“139. Upon information and belief, the City of Minneapolis routinely trains officers to place handcuffed arrestees in a prone position without proper training on putting arrestees in a recovery position and monitoring their breathing and consciousness.”

“140. The impact of the excited delirium false narrative and the MPD’s failure to properly train on asphyxiation risks is highlighted here by Lane’s statement: ‘I am worried about excited delirium, or whatever.’”

“141. When holding a subject in a prone position, well-trained officers in Minneapolis should not be concerned about ‘excited delirium, or whatever.’ Officers in Minneapolis should know the risks of asphyxiation associated with prone restraint.”

“142. High-ranking MPD personnel have continued to publicly maintain other deadly false narratives.”

“143. MPD Lieutenant and agent of the City of Minneapolis Bob Kroll- who has served as the president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis since 2015 and has sat on its board since 1996-has publicly expressed the opinion that Eric Garner, a Black man asphyxiated by the New York Police Department in 2014- could breathe at the time of his death because he was able to state ‘I can’t breathe’ several times as he was dying.”

“144. It is an accepted scientific fact that the ability to speak does not imply that someone is getting sufficient air to survive.”

“The MPD’s History Providing and Permitting Killology Training”

“145. Up and until 2019, the City of Minneapolis permitted officers to receive ‘Killology’ or ‘warrior style’ training, which teaches officers to consider every person and every situation as a potential deadly threat and to kill ‘less hesitantly.’”

“146.The City of Minneapolis was aware prior to the death of George Floyd that the officer who shot and killed Philando Castile in the nearby suburb of Falcon Heights had received Killology training.”

“147. Upon information and belief, a significant proportion of police officers employed by the MPD in May of 2020 had received Killology training during their employment.”

“148.High-ranking officers and agents of the MPD, including Kroll, encouraged all officers to receive warrior-style police training.”

“149. High-ranking officers and agents of the MPD, including Kroll, offered this training free of charge to all officers of the MPD who wanted to receive it.”

“150. The City of Minneapolis was aware that its officers had received and continued to receive Killology training before and through May of 2020, but did nothing to prevent officers from receiving it or re-training officers who had received it.”

“151. Kroll has further encouraged officers to behave aggressively, stating that MPD officers who do not receive citizen complaints are ‘low-level slugs’ who ‘[don’t] get out and investigate anything. And that’s not what we’re paying our officers to do.’”

“152. Kroll has stated that policing should be viewed like ‘a basketball game, in that if you’re not getting any fouls, you aren’t playing hard enough.’”

“153.The City of Minneapolis and high-ranking members of the MPD are aware that Kroll is an influencer for rank-and-file officers, and that its officers follow his lead with regard to law enforcement beliefs and behaviors.”

“154. Upon information and belief, Defendant City of Minneapolis has control over the amount of influence the Minneapolis Police Federation has over the officers, discipline, training, decision-making, and policy decisions of the Minneapolis Police Department.”

“155. The Minneapolis Mayor and City Council are responsible for negotiations with the Minneapolis Police Federation, including matters of officer discipline and retention. The Minneapolis Police Department Chief of Police is responsible for all decisions of hiring.””

“156.The Minneapolis Police Federation membership is made up of employees, agents, and officers of the Minneapolis Police Department.”

“157.The Police Officers within the Minneapolis Police Federation continue to be employees of the Minneapolis Police Department subject to the policies, training and orders.”

“158. The Minneapolis Police Department is responsible for maintaining training and discipline to ensure its officers follow its policies, orders, and training regardless of the opinions and actions of the Minneapolis Police Federation.”

“The City of Minneapolis and the MPD’s Failure to Terminate Dangerous Officers”

“159. The City of Minneapolis frequently fails to terminate or discipline officers who demonstrate patterns of misconduct.”

“160. Upon information and belief, Chauvin was the subject of 17 citizen complaints from 2006 to 2015, only one of which resulted in discipline, in the form of a letter of reprimand.”

“161. Upon information and belief, Chauvin has participated in the shooting and killing of at least three different individuals, including Wayne Reyes, Ira Latrell Toles, and Leroy Martinez.”

“162. In 2005, Defendant Chauvin engaged in a reckless police chase resulting in the deaths of three individuals but was not discharged from the Minneapolis Police Department.”

“163. Upon information and belief, the MPD has observed unlawful or otherwise improper conduct by Chauvin throughout his career but has tolerated it and refused to remedy or mitigate it.”

“164. Chauvin was precisely the type of reckless and dangerous officer that Kroll and other leaders of the Minneapolis Police Department encouraged him to be.”

“165. Upon information and belief, Thao was the subject of six citizen complaints from 2013 to 2017, none of which have resulted in discipline.”

“166. In 2017, Thao was the subject of a lawsuit for his use of excessive force, which the City of Minneapolis paid money to settle on his behalf.”

“167. Upon information and belief, the MPD has observed unlawful or otherwise improper conduct by Thao throughout his career but has tolerated it and refused to remedy or mitigate it.”

“168. The MPD has engaged for years in contract negotiations with the Minneapolis Federation of Police which make it more difficult for the MPD to terminate officers who have demonstrated repeated misconduct.

“The MPD’s History of Overlooking Racially Biased Policing”

“169. Upon information and belief, Black community members make up 19% of the population of Minneapolis and 58% of the subjects of police force.”

“170. The Minneapolis Police Department is currently being investigated for unlawful race-based policing, which deprives people of color, particularly Black community members, of their civil rights under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.”

“171. Prior to 2007, African American members of the MPD, including now-Chief Arradondo, received hate letters signed from the Ku Klux Klan in their interoffice mail, accessible only to MPD agents and employees.”

“172. Kroll has been accused by fellow officers, including now-Chief Arradondo,of publicly wearing a jacket with a patch depicting a racist ‘white power’ logo.”

“173. In recent years, Kroll, as president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, has publicly referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as a ‘terrorist organization.’”

“174. The Minneapolis Police Department ratified the culture of systemic racism and disparate treatment of the Black Community, by failing to remove or otherwise discipline Lt. Bob Kroll.”

“175. By 2018, as the result of a settlement, the Minneapolis Police Department was required to conduct racial sensitivity training which, upon information and belief, has not yet been completed.”

“The City of Minneapolis’s Notice of Prior Incidents of Excessive Force”

“176. The City had notice of a 2009 incident wherein MPD officers used excessive force against Ira Alexander Stafford for which Mr. Stafford filed suit against the City in 2010, alleging that while he was lying on the ground, face down with his arms around him, ‘at least one officer had a knee in Stafford’s back, making him effectively helpless.’ (Compl.) Stafford v. City of Minneapolis, et al, Civil Action No. 0:10-cv-03149-MJD-TNL (D. Minn. 2010).”

“177. According to media sources, the City entered into a monetary settlement with Zach King for a 2012 incident wherein MPD officers violated the Fourth Amendment and used excessive force against Mr. King by beating him and pressing a knee on Mr. King such that he could not breathe “almost like George Floyd.” Mr. King was hospitalized with a concussion and multiple visible physical injuries as a result of the police beating. The City took no disciplinary action against the officers for their use of excessive force against Mr. King.https://www.cbsnews.com/news/minneapolis-officers-cited-in-misconduct-lawsuits-face-little-discipline/.”

“178. The City had notice of a 2014 incident wherein MPD officers used excessive force against Alfred Flowers after he had been fully secured in handcuffs and not physically resisting. Mr. Flowers filed suit against the City and alleged that an officer suddenly grabbed him by his throat, choked him, and threw him to the ground and handcuffed him. After handcuffing Mr. Flowers, an MPD officer punched him in the head, following which several other officers entered the room and proceeded to kick and stomp on Mr. Flowers while he was handcuffed and laying on the ground. Flowers v. City of Minneapolis, et al, Civil Action No. 0:15-cv-03015-RHK-HB.”

“179. The City had notice of a 2014 incident wherein MPD officers used excessive force against Lamar Allen Ferguson after he had been fully secured in handcuffs and not physically resisting. Mr. Ferguson filed suit against the City in April 2017 and alleges that two MPD Officers threw him to the ground after he had been handcuffed and began punching him, following which MPD Officer Thao, a defendant in this action, lifted Mr. Ferguson’s head off of the ground and kicked him directly in his mouth. Ferguson v. City of Minneapolis, et al, Civil Action No. 0:17-cv-01110-PJS-TNL (D. Minn. 2017).”

“180. The City had notice of a 2016 incident wherein MPD officers used excessive and unjustified force against Abdi Hussen Hagad, a black male. MPD officers approached Mr. Hagad and violently threw him against a brick wall and dislocated his shoulder despite the absence of physical resistance from Mr. Hagad. Wagad v. City of Minneapolis, et al, Civil Action No. 0:17-cv-05239-MJD-TNL (D. Minn. 2017).”

“181. The City had notice of a 2016 incident wherein MPD officers used excessive force against Tomas Garcia-Orihuela during the course of an arrest. Mr. Garcia-Orihuel filed suit against the City and alleged that after he was handcuffed on the ground, ‘several police officers began to kick and hit him’ and continued to do so for several minutes while he was handcuffed and laying on the ground. Garcia-Orihuela v. City of Minneapolis, et al, Civil Action No. 0:17-cv-00292-RHK-KMM (D. Minn. 2017).”

“182. The City had notice of a 2018 incident wherein multiple MPD officers used excessive and entirely unjustified force against Jeremiah Jermaine Thomas when an officer drop-kicked Mr. Thomas in the chest area following which three other MPD officers joined in and immediately started punching, kneeing, and kicking. Mr. Thomas suffered a punctured lung, internal bleeding, fractured ribs, and various scratches and bruises as a result of MPD’s use of excessive force, and the City thereafter entered into a monetary settlement to resolve his claims. Jeremiah Jermaine Thomas v. City of Minneapolis, et al., 0:19-cv-00954-WMW-DTS (D. Minn 2019).”

“183. The City had notice of a 2013 incident wherein MPD officers used excessive and unjustified force against Catrina Johnson, a disabled woman who used a cane, by throwing her against her living room wall and onto the floor while using racial slurs. While MS. Johnson was pinned to the ground face down, an MPD officer put his knee on the back of her head and applied direct pressure thereby causing injury. The City entered into a monetary settlement with Ms. Johnson to settle her claims. Catrina Johnson v. City of Minneapolis, et al., 0:15-cv-02861-JRT-SER (D. Minn 2015).”

“184. The City had notice of a 2018 incident wherein multiple MPD officers used excessive and entirely unjustified force against Rico McKinnies during the course of a traffic stop, after he was handcuffed and not resisting arrest. The City entered into a monetary settlement with Mr. McKinnies for the injuries he sustained therein. Rico McKinnies v. City of Minneapolis, et al., 0:18-cv-02738-NEB-BRT (D. Minn 2018).”

“185. Each of the above-referenced incidents involved more than one officer at the scene and in each of those incidents, the non-participating MPD officers failed to intervene in the unconstitutional use of force against handcuffed, non-resisting citizens.”

“186. In addition to a substantial settlement with the family of David Smith, the City of Minneapolis has been forced to pay significant sums of money for the unlawful deaths caused by its officers.”

“187. In 2019, the City of Minneapolis approved a significant settlement with the family of Justine Ruszczyk, who was shot and killed by a Minneapolis Police Officer.”

“188. In 2019, the City of Minneapolis approved a significant settlement [with] the family of Jamar Clark, who was shot and killed by a Minneapolis Police Officer.”

“189. In 2020, the City of Minneapolis approved a significant settlement with the family of Terrance Franklin, who was shot and killed by a Minneapolis Police Officer.”

“190. While the settlement of the Justine Ruszczyk [claim] was locally billed as transformational, it had no meaningful impact on how the MPD conducts its business.”

“191. The Mayor and City Council receive notice of each lawsuit filed against the City.”

“192. All monetary settlements made by the City must be approved by the Mayor and City Council.”

“193. MPD’s Policy Manual requires that the Chief of Police report to the Mayor each instance of officer misconduct and in accordance with the same, the Chief of Police reported to the Mayor each instance of officer misconduct.”

“Count II—42 U.S.C. sec. 1983-Monell Liability”

“222. MPD’s Policy Manual provides that the Mayor is ‘vested with all the powers of said city connected with and incident to the establishment, maintenance, appointment, removal, discipline, control, and supervision of its police force, subject to the limitations herein contained and the provisions of the Civil Service chapter of this Charter, and may make all needful rules and regulations for the efficiency and discipline, and promulgate and enforce general and special orders for the government of the same, and have the care and custody of all public property connected with the Police Department of the city.’ (MPD Policy Manual Sec. 1-301 (citing City Charter reference-Chapter 6, Section 1)).”

“223. The Mayor, the City Council, and the Police Chief had final policymaking authority with regard to establishing written policies and training programs governing the conduct of MPD officers performing policing functions on behalf of the City.”

“224. The Mayor, the City Council, and the Police Chief established and/or approved of MPD’s written policies and training governing the conduct of MPD officers performing policing functions.”

“225. The written policies and training established and/or approved by The Mayor, the City Council, and the Police Chief constitute the official policy of the City and were the moving force behind and caused Plaintiff’s injuries.”

“226. The City, acting by and through its Mayor and/or other policymakers, had knowledge of MPD’s unconstitutional patterns and practices and knowledge that the same gave rise to a risk of violations of citizens’ federal rights. ”

“227. The City, acting by and through its Mayor and/or other policymakers, made a deliberate and/or conscious decision to disregard the known risk of harm that would result from MPD’s unconstitutional patterns and practices and was deliberately indifferent to and/or tacitly authorized the same.”

“228. On or prior to May 25, 2020, Minneapolis, with deliberate indifference to the rights of arrestees, detainees, and the like, tolerated, permitted, failed to correct, promoted, or ratified a number of customs, patterns, or practices that failed to provide for the safety of arrestees, detainees, and the like during arrest, including but not limited to the handcuffing and restraint process.”

“229. On or prior to May 25, 2020, Minneapolis, with deliberate indifference to the rights of arrestees, detainees, and the like, tolerated, permitted, failed to correct, promoted, or ratified a number of customs, patterns, or practices that condoned and required officers to turn a blind eye to and not intervene with the use of excessive force by MPD officers.”

“230. On or prior to May 25, 2020, Minneapolis, with deliberate indifference to the rights of arrestees, detainees, and the like, tolerated, permitted, failed to correct, promoted, fostered or ratified a number of customs, patterns, or practices that condoned and required officers to treat the members of the Black Community of Minneapolis differently, including but not limited to implementing deadly force at a higher rate against Black men who did not pose a threat to officers.”

“231. On or prior to May 25, 2020, Minneapolis, with deliberate indifference to the rights of arrestees, detainees, and the like, tolerated, permitted, failed to correct, promoted, or ratified a number of customs, patterns, or practices that shall be further identified in discovery.”

“232. Minneapolis, with deliberate indifference to the rights of arrestees, detainees, and the like, continued to employee Chauvin and Thao despite knowledge of their repeated unconstitutional, unlawful, or other improper conduct.”

“233. Minneapolis had to the power to terminate or appropriately discipline Chauvin and Thao for their misconduct prior to May 25, 2020, but failed to do so despite the City’s knowledge of a pattern of complaints regarding excessive force.”

“234. By refusing to terminate Chauvin or Thao, Minneapolis caused Chauvin and Thao to act with impunity and without fear of retribution.”

“235. Minneapolis’ failure to terminate or properly discipline Chauvin or Thao is part of its larger custom, police, or practice of failing to supervise, terminate, or properly discipline its officers for unconstitutional, unlawful, or otherwise improper conduct, and thereby encouraged Chauvin, Thao, and the other Defendant Officers to continue engaging in unlawful acts towards arrestees, including George.”

“236. On or prior to May 25, 2020, Minneapolis, with deliberate indifference to the rights of arrestees, detainees, and the like, tolerated, permitted, failed to correct, promoted, or ratified its agents, including Lt. Bob Kroll, providing improper and harmful training to officers.”

“237. Minneapolis had to the power to terminate or appropriately discipline Kroll prior to May 25, 2020, but failed to do so despite the City’s knowledge of Kroll’s perpetuation of dangerous ideology to officers.”

“238. By refusing to terminate or discipline Kroll or denounce his ideology, Minneapolis caused officers act with impunity and without fear of retribution.”

“239. On or prior to May 25, 2020, Minneapolis, with deliberate indifference to the rights of arrestees, detainees, and the like, participated in contract negotiations with the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis that granted officers powers that allowed them to avoid discipline for misconduct, including but not limited to:

a. A grievance process that resulted in a nearly 50% rate of overturns of terminations of officers;

b. The ability to review evidence and video footage prior to giving statements in use of force and misconduct matters.”

“240. This participation by the City of Minneapolis caused officers to act with impunity and without fear of retribution.”

“241. The unconstitutional policies, practices, and customs defined herein were the moving force behind George’s death.”

“242. George died as a direct and proximate result of the acts and omissions by Minneapolis.”

“243. As a direct and proximate result of the acts and omissions described herein, George suffered compensatory and special damages as defined under federal common law and in an amount to be determined by jury.”

“244. Plaintiff is entitled to recovery of costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.”

“245. The conduct described in all of the preceding paragraphs amount to wrongful acts and omissions for purposes of Minnesota Statute Section 573.02, subdivision 1.”

“246. As a direct and proximate result of these wrongful acts and omissions, George’s next of kin have suffered pecuniary loss, including medical and funeral expenses, loss of aid, counsel, guidance, advice, assistance, protection, and support in an amount to be determined by jury.”

Conclusion

All of the legal references and assertions by the parties, of course, are subject to legal research to determine their current validity in light of any subsequent federal statutes and decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and lower federal courts, especially by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota and its direct appellate court (the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit).

As previously noted, Count I of this Complaint against the four ex-officers has been covered in a prior post while Count III against the City will be the subject of a future post.

Now we await the defendants’ responses to this Complaint and other further developments in this civil case and in the criminal cases against the four ex-officers.

===================================

[1] Complaint, Kaarin Nelson Schaffer, as Trustee for the next of kin of GEORGE P. FLOYD, Jr., Deceased v. Derek Chauvin, in his capacity as a Minneapolis police officer; Tou Thao, in his capacity as a Minneapolis police officer; Thomas Lane, in his capacity as a Minneapolis police officer; J. Alexander Kueng, in his capacity as a Minneapolis police officer; and the City of Minneapolis, Case 0:20-cv-01577-SRN-TNL (July 15, 2020).

[2] Count II also includes by reference all of the allegations regarding the four ex-policemen defendants (Complaint, para. 247) that were recited in the post about Count I of the Complaint.

[3] On June 5, 2020, the City of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights agreed to ban the Minneapolis police from using chokeholds and neck restraints, and on June  that was so ordered by the Hennepin County District Court. (Ban on Police Choke Holds and Neck Restraints in Agreement Between City of Minneapolis and Minnesota Human rights Department, dwkcommentaries.com (June 6, 2020); Court Approves Agreement on Police Conduct Between City of Minneapolis and Minnesota Department of Human Rights (June 9, 2020).)

 

 

 

 

 

George Floyd Family’s Complaint Against the Four Ex-Police Officers Over His Death

As noted in a prior post, on July 15, the family of George Floyd filed a federal civil action for money damages against the four ex-police officers who were involved in Floyd’s death—Derek Chauvin, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng. Now we examine that complaint against these four individuals in Count I of the Complaint.

Count I of the Complaint[1]

Legal Basis.

That charge was set forth as Count I of the Complaint for alleged Fourth Amendment violation under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, which provides as follows:

  • “Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .”

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, in part,  “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable search and seizures, shall not be violated.”

“The Parties”

“6. Plaintiff Kaarin Nelson Schaffer (“Schaffer”) resides in Hennepin County, Minnesota and is an attorney duly licensed to practice before the State and Federal Courts of Minnesota. On July 6, 2020, Schaffer was appointed as trustee for george floyd’s next of kin.”

“7. Mr. Floyd is survived by next of kin including his children and siblings.”

“10[-11.] Upon information and belief, Defendant Chauvin is and was at all times material hereto a citizen of the United States and the state of Minnesota, . . . was at all times material hereto employed by the MPD as a duly appointed and sworn police officer, and was acting in his individual capacity and/or under color of state law, and within the scope of his employment.” [The same allegations are made against Defendants Thao, Lane and Kueng (Complaint, paras. 12-17.]

“Factual Allegations”

“George Floyd’s Death”

“18. At approximately 8:00 p.m. on May 25, 2020, the Defendant Officers were dispatched to the Cup Foods corner store located at 3759 Chicago Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota in response to a call alleging that Mr. Floyd had engaged in potential fraud, a non-violent offense.”

“19. Defendants Lane and Kueng were the first to arrive on the scene and observed Mr. Floyd seated inside a vehicle.”

“20. Defendants Lane and Kueng placed Mr. Floyd under arrest and secured both of Mr. Floyd’s hands in handcuffs behind his back without incident.”

“21. Mr. Floyd did not physically resist arrest.”

“22. Mr. Floyd was unarmed and did not at any point physically or verbally threaten the officers, nor did he attempt to flee.”

“23. After he was securely handcuffed, Mr. Floyd remained calm and complied with each of the officers’ commands as directed, including sitting down against a wall and walking with the officers across the street without incident.”

“24. Defendants Chauvin and Thao arrived on the scene after Mr. Floyd had been secured in handcuffs and while he was calmly speaking with Defendants Lane and Kueng.”

“25. None of the Defendant Officers had knowledge of any information to reasonably believe that Mr. Floyd was armed, violent, or potentially dangerous.”

“26. Defendant Chauvin was a MPD Field Training Officer (“FTO”) and Defendant Kueng was his trainee.”

“27. Probationary officers are assigned to FTOs to supervise their actions in the field for a short period following their training.”

“28.Per City of Minneapolis policy, probationary officers are not permitted to ask FTOs questions or ask FTOs for advice or guidance while being supervised by FTOs.”

“ 29. Once across the street, Mr. Floyd expressed to Lane and Kueng that he was experiencing claustrophobia.”

“30. Despite Mr. Floyd expressing claustrophobia and distress, Lane suggested to the other officers they employ the “maximal restraint technique”- a technique in which an arrestee is restrained in a prone position.”

“31.Without provocation or justification, the Defendant Officers took Mr. Floyd to the ground and placed him face down in the street, with the left side of his face pressed against the pavement.”

“32. Defendants Lane and Kueng kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s back and legs, putting their body weight onto Mr. Floyd and pinning him to the ground.”

“33. Upon information and belief, Defendant Kueng twisted Mr. Floyd’s arms to the side of his body and held them in this position.”

“34. Defendant Chauvin drove his left knee into the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck, supporting his body weight by Mr. Floyd’s neck as Mr. Floyd’s face pressed into the ground.”

“35. Lane asked the others if they should raise Mr. Floyd’s legs, and Chauvin responded that the position Mr. Floyd was in was ‘good.’”

“36. Chauvin, Lane, and Kueng kept Mr. Floyd in prone position with their body weight on top of him for nearly nine minutes.”

“37. Defendant Thao stood just feet away from Mr. Floyd’s head and from the other Defendant Officers.”

“38. Mr. Floyd said to Defendant Officers ‘Tell my kids I love them- I’m dead.’”

“39. Mr. Floyd said to Defendant Officers ‘Please, please- I can’t breathe! Please,”

“40. Mr. Floyd groaned and cried. ”

“41. An onlooker stated to Defendant Officers ‘You got him down- let him breathe at least, man,’ as Mr. Floyd continued to state that he could not breathe.”

“42. A Defendant Officer told Mr. Floyd to ‘relax.’”

“43. Chauvin asked Mr. Floyd ‘What do you want?’ Mr. Floyd repeated that he could not breathe and asked Chauvin to get off of his neck.”

“44. Mr. Floyd began to cry out for his mother and remarked ‘I’m through.’ Mr. Floyd remarked that his stomach hurt, his neck hurt, and that he needed some water, and repeated that he could not breathe.”

“45. Defendant Chauvin responded that Mr. Floyd should stop talking.”

“46. Mr. Floyd stated ‘They’re gonna kill me, man.’”

“47. An onlooker stated to Defendant officers that Mr. Floyd’s nose was bleeding and exhorted the officers to look at Mr. Floyd’s nose.”

“48. Defendant Officers did not check on Mr. Floyd after hearing that he was bleeding.”

“49. Another onlooker noted ‘That’s wrong, right there, to put your knee on his neck.’”

“50. Mr. Floyd again cried that he could not breathe.”

“51. An onlooker stated to Defendant Officers that Mr. Floyd was not resisting arrest and asked the Defendant Officers to put Mr. Floyd in the police vehicle that was less than an arm’s length from where Mr. Floyd was being forcefully held down.”

“52. An onlooker repeated that Mr. Floyd’s nose was bleeding and asked how long Defendant Chauvin planned to hold Mr. Floyd down.”

“53. During this exchange, Mr. Floyd groaned ‘I cannot breathe. I cannot breathe. He’ll kill me. He’ll kill me.’”

“54. Lane suggested to the other officers that Mr. Floyd be rolled onto his side, stating, ‘I am worried about excited delirium, or whatever.’”

“55. Lane admitted to investigators that Mr. Floyd was not resisting in any manner at  this time.”

“56. Chauvin replied, contrary to national law enforcement best practices, ‘That’s why we have him on his stomach.’‘

“57. No officer attempted to move from Mr. Floyd’s body or roll him onto his side.”

“58. Thao exclaimed ‘This is why you don’t do drugs, kids!’ to Mr. Floyd and to the concerned onlookers.”

“59. Mr. Floyd was terrified, knew that he was dying, and cried for ‘Mama.’”

“60. One onlooker told the Defendant Officers that Defendant Chauvin was obstructing Mr. Floyd’s breathing, to which Defendant Thao responded, ‘Okay.’”

“61. Defendant Chauvin then re-adjusted the position of his leg and knee to increase the amount of force and weight exerted by his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck.”

“62. The onlooker repeated that Chauvin was stopping Mr. Floyd’s breathing and that Mr. Floyd was not resisting.”

“63. Mr. Floyd spoke his last words: ‘Please- I can’t breathe.’”

“64. An onlooker told Defendant Officers that Mr. Floyd was no longer speaking, and repeated that Mr. Floyd’s nose was bleeding.”

“65. Approximately 30 seconds after the onlooker noted that Mr. Floyd had stopped speaking, Mr. Floyd lost consciousness completely; his eyes closed and face slackened, and he ceased moving completely.”

“66. After holding Mr. Floyd in a prone position for approximately five minutes, and noticing that Mr. Floyd was not moving, Lane said ‘Want to roll him on his side?’”

“67. Kueng checked Mr. Floyd’s right wrist for a pulse and said, ‘I couldn’t find one.”

“68. Despite Lane and Kueng’s statements, the Defendant Officers continued to maintain their positions.”

“69. Several onlookers shouted that Defendant Officers should ‘look at [Mr.Floyd],” that Mr. Floyd’s breathing was stopped, and that Defendant Chauvin needed to get off of Mr. Floyd’s neck.”

“70. In response, and without removing his knee from Mr. Floyd’s neck, Defendant Chauvin removed a canister of mace from his belt and pointed it toward the onlookers, while Defendant Thao stepped forward toward the onlookers.”

“71. Thao not only did not come to Mr. Floyd’s aid, but he actively prevented bystanders from doing so.”

’72. Onlookers continued to express concern to Defendant Officers, making statements including ‘He cannot breathe,’ ‘Look at him,’ ‘He’s not responsive right now,’ ‘Does he have a pulse?’ ‘Is he breathing right now?’ and ‘He’s handcuffed!’”

“73. An onlooker approached Defendant Thao and urged him by name to check Mr. Floyd for a pulse, to which Defendant Thao responded ‘Don’t do drugs, guys.’”

“74. Another onlooker identified herself as a healthcare professional of the City of Minneapolis Fire Department and asked that Defendant Officers check Mr. Floyd for a pulse; in response, Defendant Thao told her to ‘get on the sidewalk.’”

“75. Mr. Floyd was ultimately kept in a prone position with the weight of the officers on his neck and back for approximately eight minutes and forty-six seconds.”[2]

“76. Mr. Floyd was unconscious for approximately four of those minutes, yet the Defendant Officers not only did not help him, but continued to cause George’s death and further extinguish any chance for Mr. Floyd’s survival.””

“77.Chauvin kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for the entirety of those eight minutes and forty-six seconds.”

“78. The entire time Mr. Floyd was kept in that prone position, he remained handcuffed, compliant, and within the complete physical control of the three officers kneeling on top of him.”

“79. While Mr. Floyd was kept in the prone position, he never resisted or attempted to flee.”

“80. The Defendant Officers could hear the statements made by each other, by Mr. Floyd, and by the onlookers while Mr. Floyd was kept in the prone position.”

“81. Defendant Officers held Mr. Floyd in a neck restraint long after he stopped moving altogether.”

“82. An ambulance arrived, and Mr. Floyd was placed in the ambulance; Mr. Floyd was immobile and his body was limp.”

“83. Defendant Chauvin kept his knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd even after EMTs arrived and began to check for a pulse.”

“84. Defendant Lane conceded to investigators that Mr. Floyd was not resisting at the time of his death and had been rendered unconscious during his restraint.”

“85. At no time, did Defendant Officers Lane, Kueng, or Tao physically intervene in the use of a neck restraint exhibited by Defendant Chauvin.”

“The City of Minneapolis and the MPD’s Failure to Terminate Dangerous Officers”

‘160. Upon information and belief, Chauvin was the subject of 17 citizen complaints from 2006 to 2015, only one of which resulted in discipline, in the form of a letter of reprimand.”

“161. Upon information and belief, Chauvin has participated in the shooting and killing of at least three different individuals, including Wayne Reyes, Ira Latrell Toles, and Leroy Martinez.”

“162. In 2005, Defendant Chauvin engaged in a reckless police chase resulting in the deaths of three individuals but was not discharged from the Minneapolis Police Department.”

“163.Upon information and belief, the MPD has observed unlawful or otherwise improper conduct by Chauvin throughout his career but has tolerated it and refused to remedy or mitigate it.”

“164. Chauvin was precisely the type of reckless and dangerous officer that Kroll and other leaders of the Minneapolis Police Department encouraged him to be.”

“165. Upon information and belief, Thao was the subject of six citizen complaints from 2013 to 2017, none of which have resulted in discipline.”

“166. In 2017, Thao was the subject of a lawsuit for his use of excessive force, which the City of Minneapolis paid money to settle on his behalf.”

“167. Upon information and belief, the MPD has observed unlawful or otherwise improper conduct by Thao throughout his career but has tolerated it and refused to remedy or mitigate it.”

 Count I—42 U.S.C. sec. 1983—Fourth Amendment Violations

“194. Plaintiff incorporates and re-alleges all preceding paragraphs as though fully pleaded herein.”

“195.The conduct by the officers identified in this count and described herein constituted excessive and deadly force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and clearly established law.”

“196. At all material times, Defendants Chauvin, Lane, and Kueng were each acting under color of state law, as agents of Minneapolis, and within the scope of their employment and authority as duly-certified law enforcement officers of the City of Minneapolis.”

“197. At all times material hereto, Defendant Chauvin was acting in a supervisory capacity as a Field Training Officer and directly participated in violating Mr. Floyd’s federal rights. Defendant Chauvin is therefore liable in both his individual and supervisory capacities.”

“198. At all material times, Chauvin, Lane and Kueng had no reason to believe that Mr. Floyd was armed or dangerous.”

“199. At all material times, Chauvin did not have a reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm when he kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck, nor did Chauvin have a reasonable belief that any other person was in danger of imminent bodily danger from Mr. Floyd.“

“200. At all material times, Lane and Kueng did not have a reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm when they kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s back, nor did they have a reasonable belief that any other person was in danger of imminent bodily danger from Mr. Floyd.”

“201. Every reasonable officer would have known that using force against a compliant, handcuffed individual who is not resisting arrest constitutes excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

“202. Chauvin’s use of deadly force in applying direct pressure to and kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck was objectively unreasonable and violated clearly established law.”

“203. Lane and Kueng’s use of force in applying direct pressure to and kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s back was objectively unreasonable and violated clearly established law.”

“204. It was objectively unreasonable for Chauvin, Lane, and Kueng to maintain Mr. Floyd in a prone position without properly monitoring his breathing or pulse.”

“205. It was a violation of Mr. Floyd’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights for Chauvin, Lane, Kueng, and Thao not to render medical aid following Mr. Floyd’s complaints that he could not breathe and Mr. Floyd’s loss of consciousness, each of which demonstrated a serious medical need.’”

“206. As a result of Chauvin, Lane, and Kueng’s unjustified, excessive, and illegal, and deadly use of force, Mr. Floyd experienced conscious pain and suffering.”

“207. As a result of Chauvin, Lane, and Kueng’s unjustified, excessive, illegal, and deadly use of force, Mr. Floyd died.”

“208. In addition to these uses of unjustified, excessive, illegal, and deadly uses of force, each of the Defendant Officers had a duty to intervene on behalf of a citizen whose constitutional rights were being violated in their presence by another officer.”

“209.Thao, Lane, and Kueng all recognized that the force being used, including but not limited to Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, was excessive and unreasonable under the circumstances.”

“210. Defendants Lane, Kueng, and Thao each observed and were in a position to intervene to stop Defendant Chauvin’s use of constitutionally unreasonable deadly force against Mr. Floyd.”

“211. None of the Defendant Officers ever had a reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm, nor did they have a reasonable belief that any other person was in danger of imminent bodily danger from Mr. Floyd at any point in time.”

“212.Defendants Lane and Kueng’s failure to intervene in Defendant Chauvin’s use of constitutionally unreasonable deadly force violated Mr. Floyd’s clearly established Fourth Amendment rights.”

“213.Defendant Thao’s failure to intervene in the other Defendant Officers’ use of constitutionally unreasonable force violated Mr. Floyd’s clearly established Fourth Amendment rights.”

“214. As a result of the failure to intervene by Thao, Lane, and Kueng, Mr. Floyd experienced conscious pain and suffering.”

“215. As a result of Thao, Lane, and Kueng’s unjustified failure to intervene in the excessive use of force, Mr. Floyd died.”

“216.As a direct and proximate result of the acts and omissions described herein, Mr. Floyd suffered compensatory and special damages as defined under federal common law and in an amount to be determined by jury.”

“217. Punitive damages are available against Chauvin and are hereby claimed as a matter of federal common law under Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30 (1983), and, as such, are not subject to the pleading requirements or the differing standard of proof set forth in Minn.Stat. Ann. § 549.20.”

“218. Plaintiff is entitled to recovery of costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.”

“219. The conduct described in all of the preceding paragraphs amount to wrongful acts and omissions for purposes of Minnesota Statute Section 573.02, subdivision 1.”

“220. As a direct and proximate result of these wrongful acts and omissions, George’s next of kin have suffered pecuniary loss, including medical and funeral expenses, loss of aid, counsel, guidance, advice, assistance, protection, and support in an amount to be determined by jury.”

Conclusion

Count I’s recitation of the four ex-officers’ encounter on May 25th with George Floyd is consistent with other reports by journalists who have seen the bodycam footages, the transcripts of those footages and with the criminal complaints against the four ex-officers.[3]

All of the legal references and assertions by the parties, of course, are subject to legal research to determine their current validity in light of any subsequent federal statutes and decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and lower federal courts, especially by the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota and its direct appellate court (the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit).

Subsequent posts will examine the Complaint’s two counts against the City of Minneapolis.

Then we await the four ex-officers’ responses to Count I and other further developments in this civil case and their criminal cases.

==========================================

[1] Complaint, Kaarin Nelson Schaffer, as Trustee for the next of kin of GEORGE P. FLOYD, Jr., Deceased v. Derek Chauvin, in his capacity as a Minneapolis police officer; Tou Thao, in his capacity as a Minneapolis police officer; Thomas Lane, in his capacity as a Minneapolis police officer; J. Alexander Kueng, in his capacity as a Minneapolis police officer; and the City of Minneapolis, Case 0:20-cv-01577-SRN-TNL (July 15, 2020).

[2] The criminal complaints against the four ex-officers stated that they had held Mr. Floyd on the pavement for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Subsequently the prosecution said that there had been an arithmetical error in the calculation and that the correct length was 7 minutes and 46 seconds. (See Revised Length of Time for Minneapolis Police Restraint of George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (June 18, 2020).)

[3] Count I’s recitation of the four ex-officers May 25th encounter with George Floyd is consistent with other reports of watching the ex-officers’ videocam footages, the transcripts of those footages and the criminal complaint against those four men. (See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: The Criminal Complaint Against Derek Chauvin Over the Death of George Floyd (June 12, 2020); The Criminal Complaints Against the Other Three Policemen Involved in George Floyd’s Death (June 14, 2020); Journalist’s Report on Viewing Two Bodycam Footages of George Floyd Killing (July 15, 2020). See also Arango, Furber & Bogel-Burroughs, Footage of Police Body Cameras Offers Devastating Account of Floyd Killing, N.Y. Times (July 15, 2020). The exception is the length of time of the ex-officers’ physical restraint of Mr. Floyd noted in footnote # 2.

Other Opinions About the U.S. Electoral College

A prior post discussed the July 6 Supreme Court decisions about the “faithless electors’ in the U.S. Electoral College for electing the president and vice president and initial reactions to those Supreme Court cases. Here are some additional reactions to those cases as well as other commentaries about the U.S.’ complicated system for election of a president and vice president.

Jesse Wegman[1]

Jesse Wegman, a member of the New York Times editorial board and the author of a book about the Electoral College, rightly says these recent cases did not address the issue of the continued existence of that institution, which, he says,” is rotting American democracy from the inside out.” First, it potentially can award “the presidency to the candidate who earns fewer votes among the people as a whole — which violates the fundamental premise of majority rule.” Second, it violates “the constitutional mandate of ‘one person, one vote.’ In the presidential election, the value of your vote depends on where you live. If you live in one of the half-dozen or so ‘battleground’ states, it matters hugely. If you happen to live in a ‘safe state,’ as a vast majority of Americans do, it’s effectively irrelevant.”

The Electoral College was created in the late 18th century Constitution because its “framers worried that most voters — who rarely ventured far from home and had no easy way of getting information quickly — couldn’t know enough about national candidates to make an informed decision.” However, Wegman says, the College has never worked that way with the immediate formation of national political parties.

As a result, Wegman argues, “there is no remaining rationale for the Electoral College. What remains is a system that serves no purpose other than to erase the votes of 100 million Americans every four years, making them bystanders to the most consequential election of all.” In short, amend the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College.

Wall Street Journal[2]

A Wall Street Journal editorial also points out that these new cases do not “address the most controversial question about the Electoral College, which is whether the U.S. should have one at all.”

The editorial, however, does not address that issue either. Instead, it discusses the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact whereby some states agree to grant their electors to the winner of the nationwide popular vote and which presumably is valid under the Opinion of the Court. However, says the Journal, Justice Thomas in his concurring opinion, points out that the Constitution in the last clause of Article I, Section 8, states, “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress . . . enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State.”

In any event, that compact currently has 16 members (15 states and the District of Columbia) with a total of 196 electoral votes and by its terms would go into effect when enough additional states join to constitute a majority of the Electoral College (270 votes).

Richard L. Hasen[3]

 Just before these Supreme Court decisions, Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine and the author of a leading book on problems of the U.S. election system, noted several problems with that system.

  • First, it “features deep fragmentation of governmental authority over elections. Not only does the United States use a highly decentralized and localized election system that gives many powers over national elections to state and local bodies, but also, even within the approximately 10,500 bodies expected to run the 2020 election, there is sometimes disagreement over who has decision making authority over voting rights decisions.”
  • Second, “protection of voting rights in the United States is marked by polarized and judicialized decision making.”
  • Third, U.S. “ constitutional protections for voting rights remain weak. The U.S. Constitution contains no affirmative right to vote. It speaks of voting rights mostly in the negative: thanks to a number of constitutional amendments, it is now illegal to bar someone from voting on the basis of race, gender, age of at least 18, or through the use of a poll tax.”
  • Fourth, this “decentralized, federalist approach to voting rights has led to a self-perpetuating system of voting inequality, where in some places you may be disenfranchised even if you do everything right.”

Therefore, Hasen proposes the following short-term remedies. “All states need to expand opportunities for online voter registration in time” for this November’s presidential election. . . . Congress needs to adequately fund additional expenses related to running an election during the pandemic. . . .  States need to form independent bipartisan task forces to conduct full and independent investigations into why areas with more poor voters and voters of color saw significant problems voting in person during the primaries.”

In addition, Hasen advocates for a new constitutional amendment that would “guarantee all adult citizens the right to vote in federal elections, establish a nonpartisan administrative body to run federal elections that would automatically register all eligible voters to vote, and impose basic standards of voting access and competency for state and local elections.

 Wilfred Codrington III [4]

Last year Codrington, a Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, pointed out a racist motivation for the creation of the Electoral College at the Constitutional Convention.

“The populations in the North and South were approximately equal, but roughly one-third of those living in the South were held in bondage. Because of its considerable, nonvoting slave population, that region would have less clout under a popular-vote system. The ultimate solution was an indirect method of choosing the president, one that could leverage the three-fifths compromise, the Faustian bargain they’d already made to determine how congressional seats would be apportioned. With about 93 percent of the country’s slaves toiling in just five southern states, that region was the undoubted beneficiary of the compromise, increasing the size of the South’s congressional delegation by 42 percent. When the time came to agree on a system for choosing the president, it was all too easy for the delegates to resort to the three-fifths compromise as the foundation.”

This racial impact affected the election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams, 73-65 in the Electoral College and “metaphorically rode into the executive mansion on the backs of slaves,” according to a Yale Law School professor, Akhil Reed Amar.

In the 1876 presidential election, Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but not the Electoral College vote due to disputes about the status of some electors. An ad hoc commission ultimately awarded the disputed electors to Republican Rutherford Hayes with his agreeing to remove federal troops in the South that were intended to maintain order and protect black voters.

Max Boot[5]

Boot, an historian and Washington Post columnist, reports that he recently participated in a “war game” over a hypothetical narrow Biden victory in the Electoral College, 278-260, including narrow wins in three swing states—Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—where Republicans control both houses of their legislatures. Although all three states have Democratic governors, who usually certify election results, there is nothing to prevent the legislatures from certifying different results, especially if Trump “will stop at nothing to avoid the stigma of being branded a ‘loser’” and if hypothetically he and his allies concocted allegations of election fraud in those three states. The resulting dispute over these three states and hence the results of the election could well end up in the Supreme Court, and who could predict how they might resolve the dispute, given what it did in the 2000 election contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

A related concern is whether local, state and federal funding for the expenses of conducting the upcoming election in this pandemic will be adequate. This especially is true for the U.S. Postal Service with the anticipated mailing of election ballots.

David Rothkopf[6]

A lot of these current issues about the Electoral College are prompted by the outrageous conduct of our current president, Donald Trump, who is the “embodiment of the Founders’ worst fears.” So says David Rothkopf, a former professor of international affairs at Columbia University, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown University, former CEO and editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine and a senior official in the Clinton Administration.

Rothkopf continues, Trump “has invited our enemies to interfere with our elections to help him win, then sought to do it again. He has misused federal resources, inappropriately elevated his own family members, and enriched his own businesses. He has repeatedly attacked the First and the Fourteenth Amendments. He has had infants thrown in cages and denied relief to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria at the cost of thousands of lives. He has gutted environmental protections and attacked alliances that the US spent decades building and maintaining. And now he has mismanaged the worst public health crisis in a hundred years, overseen the greatest economic crisis since the Depression, and attempted to use the US military to crush legitimate protests on the streets of the capital.”

Moreover, “in the space of just a few days, . . . [Trump] was revealed to have endorsed concentration camps in China and to have again sought the assistance of a foreign adversary in winning a US election, was quoted as calling for the deaths and imprisonment of US journalists, defended the slave power traitors of the Confederacy, admitted that he suppressed testing during the pandemic because true data about the rate of infections would harm him politically, sought to fire more truthtellers in the administration and had his attorney general remove an official in charge of investigations into him and his supporters. He was reportedly briefed about a Russian scheme to place bounties on American and allied troops in Afghanistan, and not only did nothing about it but continued to act as an advocate for Putin. And so it goes on… before we even consider the many complaints about his character—his racism and misogyny, his ignorance and contempt for science and history, his lies, his narcissism, his vulgarity, his demagoguery. Has there ever been a public official in US history so unable to relate to others, show an emotion besides anger, or view the world through any means but his own self-interest?”

Conclusion

 Support a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College!

==========================

[1] Wegman, Can We Please Pick the President by Popular Vote Now? N.Y. Times (July 6, 2020)

[2] Editorial, States and the Electoral College, W.S. J. (July 6, 2020); Kendall & Bravin, Supreme Court Rules States Can Prohibit Electors From Breaking Rank, W.S.J. (July 6, 2020); Astor & Stevens, Did the Popular Vote Just Get a Win at the Supreme Court? N.Y. Times (July 6, 2020); National Popular Vote, nationalpopularvote.com.

[3] Hasen, Bring on the 28th Amendment, N.Y. Times (June 29, 2020).  Since there are now 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, this article calls for a 28th amendment even though an existing non-profit organization has drafted and is promoting what it calls the 28th Amendment “to end the escalating influence of big money that dominates our elections . . . [by enabling} Americans to enact reasonable limits on campaign contributions and dark money political spending [and] reversing the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision.” (American Promise, The 28th Amendment.)

[4] Codrington, The Electoral College’s Racist Origins, The Atlantic  (Nov. 17, 2019); 1800 United States presidential election, Wikipedia.

[5] Boot, What if Trump loses but insists he won? Wash. Post (July 6, 2020); Reuters, ‘Epic failure’: U.S. Election Officials Warn of November Chaos Due to Budget Crunch, N.Y. Times (July 10, 2020); McCarthy & Jameel, The Postal Service Is Steadily Getting Worse—Can It Handle a National Mail-In Election?, propublica.org (June 15, 2020). See also Will Upcoming U.S. Presidential Election Be Legitimate? dwkcommentaries.com (July 5, 2020).

[6] Rothkropf, “The Most Ignorant and Unfit’: What Made America’s Worst Ever Leader? N.Y. Rev. Books (July 3, 2020).

 

 

Electoral College Electors Do Not Have Discretion To Vote Contrary to Their State’s Voters 

On July 6, the U.S. Supreme Court decided two cases about so-called “faithless” electors who in the 2016 Electoral College voted contrary to the majority of their state’s voters in the popular presidential election of that year.[1]

The headnotes in the Chiafalo case that the Court held that a “State may enforce an elector’s pledge to support his party’s nominee—and the state voters’ choice for President.”

The Opinion of the Court in Chiafalo was written by Justice Elena Kagan and joined by all the other justices except Justice Thomas, who filed a separate concurring opinion.

The Court’s Opinion first set forth an extensive review of the history of Article II of the Constitution that established the Electoral College,[2] the Twelfth Amendment of 1804 that required separate votes for President and Vice President in the Electoral College[3] and other relevant history. The Opinion then concluded as follows:

  • “Article and the Twelfth Amendment give States broad power over electors, and give electors themselves no rights. Early in our history, States decided to tie electors to the presidential choices of others, whether legislatures or citizens. Except that legislatures no longer play a role, that practice has continued for more than 200 years. Among the devices States have long used to achieve their object are pledge laws, designed to impress on electors their role as agents of others. A State follows in the same tradition if, like Washington, it chooses to sanction an elector for breaching his promise. [The State of Washington imposed a civil fine of up to $1,000 for breach of such a pledge.] Then too, the State instructs its electors that they have no ground for reversing the vote of millions of its citizens. That direction accords with the Constitution—as well as with the trust of a Nation that here, We the People rule.”

=================================

[1] Chiafalo v. Washington, No. 19-465 (U.S. Sup Ct. July 6, 2020); Colorado Dept of State v. Baca, No. 19-518 ((per curiam) U.S. Sup. Ct. July 6, 2020)(“The judgement of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth circuit is reversed for the reasons stated in Chiafalo v. Washington.” ) See also Liptak, States May curb ‘Faithless Electors,’ Supreme Court Rules, N.Y. times (July 6, 2020); Barnes, Supreme Court says states may require presidential electors to support popular winner, Wash. Post (July 6, 2020).

[2] Article II, sec. 1, cl. 2 states: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.”

[3] The Twelfth Amendment states: “The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President . . .; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to [Congress, where] the votes shall then be counted.” The Twelfth Amendment goes on to say, “ The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed . . . .The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice President shall be the Vice President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed . . . “ [This Amendment also established procedures if there is no one with a majority of the votes for either or both offices.]

 

Will Upcoming U.S. Presidential Election Be Legitimate? 

Any country that claims to be a democracy in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic should be taking steps to encourage maximum voter participation while protecting voters from risking their health. Such steps would include facilitating voter registration and maximizing the use of voting by mail. That seems self-evident. Yet it is not happening throughout the U.S., and, as is usual in our complex federal system, the rules governing this November’s U.S. election are complicated.[1]

Introduction

While every presidential election year brings an increase in voting rights litigation, the current pandemic has multiplied the number of lawsuits filed in the past 3½ months. Democrats and voting rights advocates are pursuing cases to make it easier to vote by mail, filing more than 60 lawsuits in 25 states.

These lawsuits “are now poised to shape the details of how roughly 130 million registered voters are able to cast ballots in upcoming contests.” However, “conflicting court decisions could exacerbate the differences in voters’ experiences at the ballot box in November. And as the fights play out, the uncertainty is further complicating election officials’ ability to prepare for the vote.”

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Dale Ho, who supervises its voting litigation, says, “I think it’s clear we have a potential disaster on our hands on Election Day if we can’t process as many votes as possible beforehand. The alarm bells are going off. It’s not just some sort of hypothetical as a problem — we’ve seen it as a problem multiple times. It will repeat in November. The question is how much and in how many places and how badly.”

A Democratic elections attorney, Marc Elias, agrees. “When the political branches fail to protect voting rights, it is left to the courts to do that. If the political branches were functioning the way they’re supposed to, you would have Republicans and Democrats agreeing to increase access to absentee voting. You’d be putting in place safeguards to make sure every eligible voter who casts a ballot has that ballot counted. . . . Unfortunately, the Republican Party is taking its cues from Donald Trump.”

Common Cause’s director of voting and elections, Sylvia Albert, said decisions about how to handle voting during a pandemic are not easy but “have to be made.” She added,“There is no waiting it out,” noting that as more time passes, the shorter the window for educating voters about any changes becomes. “As a state legislator, as a secretary of state, as a governor, you are responsible for ensuring that voters can access the ballot. By not moving ahead, they’re really abdicating their responsibility to the voters.”

President Trump’s Opposition to Mail Voting

The principal cause of the problem of this election is President Trump, who has made it clear that he is determined to curtail access to mail ballots, claiming without evidence that their use leads to widespread fraud. “My biggest risk is that we don’t win lawsuits,” the president said in June in an interview with Politico. “We have many lawsuits going all over. And if we don’t win those lawsuits . . . I think it puts the election at risk.” As a result, the GOP is pushing to limit the expansion of voting by mail, backed by a $20 million Republican National Committee effort and help from conservative groups.

However, there is no evidence that mail voting leads to the kind of massive fraud Trump has described. A recent analysis by The Washington Post found that cases of potential fraud have been exceedingly rare in states that conduct voting exclusively by mail.

Nevertheless, with “Republican governors under pressure from President Trump not to expand voting by mail and many legislatures adjourned for the year or deadlocked along party lines, changes in the coming months are likely to come through court decisions.” As a result, this blogger fears that the Trump Administration will do anything and everything to try to steal this year’s presidential election.

Fortunately former Republican Governor of Massachusetts, Bill Weld, has come out against Trump on this (and other) issues. He says,“absentee voting has been around since the Civil War and . . ., increasingly, states both red and blue are not just allowing but also encouraging citizens to vote by mail.”[2]

Indeed, Weld says, “Public support for voting-by-mail was in place long before the novel coronavirus came along. In the past week, Colorado and Utah conducted successful, smooth primary elections almost entirely by mail, with strong turnouts and no need for voters to stand in unhealthy lines. For a highly contested June 23 primary, Kentucky’s Democratic governor and Republican secretary of state worked together to make absentee voting less cumbersome. It worked, and turnout was at near-record levels. . . . The only problems Kentucky encountered resulted from the covid-19-driven consolidation of in-person, Election Day polling places.”

Weld also notes that public opinion polls show nearly 80 percent of voters support giving all voters the option of voting in person or voting absentee. That includes a majority of Republicans — the president’s paranoia notwithstanding.”[3]

Therefore, Weld concludes, “To my fellow Republicans, I plead with you to not follow Trump off this cliff. A political party that brands itself as the party of exclusion, disregard for citizens’ safety and thinly veiled vote suppression is not a party with a future.”

 State Developments on Mail Voting

Here is an attempted analysis of where at least some of the states stand on rules for the November 3, 2020 election.

Alabama. Because of the virus, Alabama officials are allowing any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot in the upcoming election without having to cite a valid reason. In  a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups citing coronavirus dangers, Birmingham-based U.S. District Court Judge Abdul Kallon on June 15 struke down a requirement for absentee voters to submit a copy of a photo ID and to have their ballots signed off by two witnesses or a notary public as well as lifting a statewide ban on curbside voting at polling places. The judge said he would permit willing counties to allow drive-up voting, but he stopped short of requiring such an accommodation. This order was upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, but on July 2, the U.S. Supreme Court, 5-4,  reversed that order for the July 14 primary runoff election for the U.S. Senate between Jeff Sesssions and Tommy Tuberville.[4]

California, Nebraska (counties < 10,000) and North Dakota provide counties the option to conduct all voting by mail. In addition, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (Dem.) ordered election officials to proactively send absentee ballots to all active registered voters in the state for the general election. This move drew fierce opposition from the right, including a lawsuit from the Republican National Committee, but the change subsequently was authorized by a new state law.[5]

Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington authorize all voting by mail. “For these elections, all registered voters receive a ballot in the mail. The voter marks the ballot, puts it in a secrecy envelope or sleeve and then into a separate mailing envelope, signs an affidavit on the exterior of the mailing envelope, and returns the package via mail or by dropping it off.”[6]

District of Columbia. It will send absentee ballots to all registered voters.

Georgia. The GOP Secretary of State mailed absentee ballot request forms to voters for the June 9 primaries. The Republican House Speaker, however, warned that expanded absentee voting could lead to fraud, and a state House committee approved a measure that would bar the mailing of absentee request forms for the fall, but the bill failed to pass before the legislature adjourned. The Georgia Secretary of State, however, already had said his office lacked funds to send ballot request applications for the general election, even though,

“By a wide margin, voters on both sides of the political spectrum agree that sending absentee applications to all active voters was the safest and best thing our office could do to protect our voters at the peak of COVID-19.”

Illinois and Michigan. This year these states will mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters.

Iowa. Gov. Kim Reynolds (Rep.) signed a bill into law that will require the secretary of state to seek legislative approval to send absentee ballot request forms to voters before November. This was seen as a rebuke to Iowa’s Republican Secretary of State, who mailed the forms to voters for the primary last month, resulting in a new turnout record for a June primary in the state.

Massachusetts. For the rest of this year this commonwealth has chosen to abandon its requirement for an excuse for an absentee ballot.

Missouri. As a result of an ACLU lawsuit, the Missouri Legislature adopted a statute expanding voting by mail during the pandemic, while retaining the statutory requirement for a notarization of the ballot with the legitimacy of that requirement still being litigated under a ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court.[7]

Pennsylvania. The Trump campaign recently sued to stop voters from using drop boxes to return completed absentee ballots and block ballots from being counted if they do not arrive inside the provided secrecy envelope. The Complaint alleged that mail voting “provides fraudsters an easy opportunity to engage in ballot harvesting, manipulate or destroy ballots, manufacture duplicitous votes, and sow chaos.” The Democratic Party obviously is opposing this lawsuit

Tennessee. Last month a Nashville judge ruled that any eligible voter who is concerned about contracting covid-19 at a polling place may cast an absentee ballot this fall, even though state law would typically require that voter to qualify using an excuse. The state Supreme Court declined last week to stay that decision after a request from Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

Texas. The Texas Democratic Party and several voters sued in federal court to allow all eligible Texas voters to vote by mail, at least during the coronavirus pandemic, on the ground that the state’s over-65 age limitation for such voting allegedly was unconstitutional, which contention was upheld by a trial court’s injunction, but reversed by the appellate court with the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26th rejecting an emergency appeal by the plaintiffs and remanding the case to the appellate court. (Justice Sotomayor urged the appellate court to consider the case “well in advance of the November election”).[8]

Wisconsin. On June 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled that after more than three years, Wisconsin must reinstate several Republican-backed voting restrictions, including limits on early voting. The original GOP policies were struck down in 2016 for discriminating against minority voters, a conclusion the appellate panel rejected this week.[9]

Guarding Legitimacy of this Year’s Presidential Election

Great concern over the integrity of this presidential election has been expressed by William A. Galston, the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, a former policy advisor to President Clinton and a Wall Street Journal columnist.  He said, “After a quarter-century of toxic division, our democracy is imperiled. A contested election could tip the U.S. into a devastating crisis of legitimacy, a prospect that every patriot must regard with dismay.”[10]

Therefore, Galston suggested four ways to minimize the risks in this upcoming election.

First, “To reduce pressure on the mail-in option, localities must provide the fullest possible opportunity to vote in person, as New York University law professor Richard A. Pildes has argued. This means increasing the number of polling places while expanding opportunities for early voting. Many elderly poll workers will be reluctant to do the job this year; large numbers of younger Americans should be recruited and trained to replace them. Schools should continue to serve as polling places, as they have for decades, and Election Day should be a school holiday.”

Second, “states should do what they can to facilitate the fastest possible count of mail-in ballots. Mr. Pildes recommends processing the mail-in ballots that arrive before Election Day so that they can be tallied in time for the results to be included in the count soon after the polls close, a procedure that California now employs. Other states—including Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania—would have to change their laws to permit this, and they should.”

Third, “As Nathaniel Persily, a co-director of the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project points out, the media have a crucial role to play as well. Reporters should educate themselves and the public about the all but certain delay in the vote count that the flood of mail-in ballots will entail. Above all, media organizations should resist the urge to call the election ahead of their competitors and instead wait until enough ballots have been tallied to know the result with confidence. In the past, ill-judged early calls of key states have sown confusion. This year, the consequences could be far worse.”

Fourth, “America’s elder statesmen must do all they can to ensure election integrity. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush should spearhead the formation of a bipartisan committee including respected figures such as former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice, and former Secretaries of Defense Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, along with lawyers and election experts from both parties who have served in previous presidential campaigns. Committee staff should be ready to investigate charges of fraud as soon as they arise and observe the counting of mail-in ballots if asked. Committee leaders should announce their findings as quickly as accuracy permits and stand united in their defense.”

Such a committee’s “most important tasks would be meetings soon after Labor Day with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. These leaders should be asked for a public pledge to stand together against unsubstantiated claims that the election has been stolen and to do their utmost to persuade elected officials in their respective parties to stand with them.”

Conclusion

In addition to all of the above litigation, the Supreme Court still has to resolve two cases about so-called “faithless” electors in the Electoral College that actually elects the President. Presumably decisions in those two cases will come down this coming week and will be discussed in a future post.[11]

Another future post will examine ways to create stronger voting rights from Richard L. Hasen, Professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine and the author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy.”

Comments to this post for corrections and supplementation for new developments are earnestly solicited.

===================================1~

[1] See generally Viebeck, Voting rules changed quickly for the primaries. But the battle over how Americans will cast ballots in the fall is just heating up, Wash. Post (July 3, 2020).

[2] Weld, Please, Republicans don’t join Trump’s crusade against voting-by-mail, Wash. Post (July 3, 2020). See also Strauss, ‘We’ve got to do something’: Republican rebels come together to take on Trump, Guardian (July 2, 2020).

[3] See also Brennan Center for Justice, Americans of All Stripes Want a Mail Ballot Option.

[4] Liptak, Splitting 5-4, Supreme Court Grants Alabama’s Request to Restore Voting Restrictions, N.Y. Times (July 2, 2020); Gerstein, Supreme Court blocks judge’s order loosening Alabama voting requirements due to virus, Politico (July 2, 2020).

[5] National Conf. State Legislatures, All-Mail Elections (aka Vote-By-Mail).

[6] Ibid.

[7] ACLU, Press Release: Court Rules Lawsuit To Allow All Missourians to Vote By Mail Without a Notary During Covid-19 Can Proceed (June 23, 2020).

[8] Liptak, Supreme Court Turns down Request to Allow All Texans to Vote by Mail, N.Y.Times (June 26, 2020); Assoc. Press, Supreme Court doesn’t wade into mail-in voting battle, Wash. Post (June 26, 2020); Barnes, Supreme Court won’t force Texans to allow absentee ballots for all voters, Wash. Post (June 26, 2020).

[9] Earlier this year there was federal court litigation over the Wisconsin primary election that lead to counting of ballots that had been mailed no later than election day. (See these posts and comments to dwkcommentaries.com: Pandemic Journal (# 10): Wisconsin Primary Election (April 10, 2020); Comment: More Criticism of Republican Strategy of Limiting Voting (April 12, 2020; Comment: More Comments on Wisconsin Election (April 13, 2020); Comment: Surprising Results in Wisconsin Election (April 14, 2020); Commnet: George F. Will’s Opinion on Voting By Mail (VBM) (April 15, 2020); Comment: Emerging Battles Over Changing State Election Laws (April 15, 2020); Comment: New York Times Editorial on Wisconsin Election (April 20, 2020; Comment: Thousands of Wisconsin Absentee Ballots Counted After Election Day (May 3, 2020).

[10] Galston, How to Prevent an Electoral Crisis, W.S.J. (June 30, 2020).

[11] Liptak, Supreme Court Seems Ready to Curb ‘Faithless Electors,’ N.Y. Times (May 13, 2020); Wegman, The Electoral College Is a Confusing Mess, N.Y.Times (May 13, 2020).

 

 

 

Congress Fails To Pass Federal Police Reform Bills   

On June 24 and 25, the divisions between the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate and the Democrat-controlled U.S. House again emerged, this time to prevent, in all likelihood, the adoption of any federal police reform bills this year.

U.S. Senate[1]

On June 24 the Senate was prepared to debate The Justice Act, a bill authored by Senator Tim Scott (Rep., SC), that would encourage state and local police departments to change their practices, by limiting the use of chokeholds, requiring new de-escalation training for officers and better systems for tracking misconduct  and penalizing departments that did not require the use of body cameras. It, however,  would not alter the qualified immunity doctrine that shields officers from lawsuits or place new federal restrictions on the use of lethal force.

The Senate Democrats criticized this bill as insufficient to respond to the problem of systemic racism in law enforcement as the basis for an objection to consideration of the bill. This forced a motion for consideration that, under Senate rules, needs at least 60 votes to pass, but only had 55 votes with Democrats Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Independent Angus King of Maine joining 52 Republicans. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Rep., Tenn.) voted against that motion so that subsequently he could make a motion for reconsideration by announcing his intent to switch his vote.

After this defeat, Senator Scott stated on the floor that he had had offered to give Democrats as many as 20 votes on proposed modifications to his bill that they were demanding, but that they had refused to accept. Privately, Democrats noted that revising the bill would have also required the approval of 60 senators, a threshold they feared they would not be able to meet.

It is still possible that the Scott bill could be brought up again this year in the Senate by the Majority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell switching his vote from “Yes” to “No” on a motion for reconsideration.

In the meantime, on June 25 the Senate by unanimous consent separately passed a provision of Mr. Scott’s bill to establish a commission on the social status of black men and boys, tasked with recommending policies to improve government programs.

U.S. House[2]

 On June 25, the U.S. House passed, 236-181, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Representative Karen Bass (Dem., CA), the lead sponsor of the bill, said, “The legislation is the first-ever bold, comprehensive approach to hold police accountable, change the culture of law enforcement, empower our communities, and build trust between law enforcement and our communities by addressing systemic racism and bias to help save lives. Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-CA), Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) introduced the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 on June 8, 2020. The legislation has 231 cosponsors in the House and 36 cosponsors in the Senate.”

“Under the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, for the first time ever federal law would: 1) ban chokeholds; 2) end racial and religious profiling; 3) eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement;[3] 4) establish national standard for the operation of police departments; 5) mandate data collection on police encounters; 6) reprogram existing funds to invest in transformative community-based policing programs; and 7) streamline federal law to prosecute excessive force and establish independent prosecutors for police investigations.”  In greater detail, the Act:

  • “Prohibits federal, state, and local law enforcement from racial, religious and discriminatory profiling, and mandates training on racial, religious, and discriminatory profiling for all law enforcement.
  • Bans chokeholds, carotid holds and no-knock warrants at the federal level and limits the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement.
  • Mandates the use of dashboard cameras and body cameras for federal offices and requires state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body cameras.
  • Establishes a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problematic officers who are fired or leave on agency from moving to another jurisdiction without any accountability.
  • Amends federal criminal statute from “willfulness” to a “recklessness” standard to successfully identify and prosecute police misconduct.
  • Reforms qualified immunity so that individuals are not barred from recovering damages when police violate their constitutional rights.
  • Establishes public safety innovation grants for community-based organizations to create local commissions and task forces to help communities to re-imagine and develop concrete, just and equitable public safety approaches.
  • Creates law enforcement development and training programs to develop best practices and requires the creation of law enforcement accreditation standard recommendations based on President Obama’s Taskforce on 21st Century policing.
  • Requires state and local law enforcement agencies to report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, religion, age.
  • Improves the use of pattern and practice investigations at the federal level by granting the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division subpoena power and creates a grant program for state attorneys general to develop authority to conduct independent investigations into problematic police departments.
  • Establishes a Department of Justice task force to coordinate the investigation, prosecution and enforcement efforts of federal, state and local governments in cases related to law enforcement misconduct.”

It would make lynchings a federal hate crime, ban federal officials from using chokeholds, ban federal funds to state and local law enforcement agencies that do not bar chokeholds, bar law enforcement from racial and religious profiling, make it easier to prosecute police officers for misconduct and allow civilians to recover some damages if their constitutional rights are found to have been violated by police, a change to the judicial doctrine known as qualified immunity.

It should be noted that three Republican representatives voted for this bill: Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), Will Hurd (TX) and Fred Upton (MI).

 Conclusion

As a Democrat you supports various means of reforming policing in the U.S., I am disappointed that the Congress was unable to agree on such measures.

However, I think it was a political mistake for the Senate Democrats to block consideration of the Senator Tim Scott reform bill. As I understand what happened in the Senate, the Democrats had no objections to the bill’s provisions. Instead, they objected that the bill did not go far enough. Their objections could have been made during the debate on the Scott bill, with or without proposed amendments that probably would be defeated by the Republican majority. Moreover, by allowing the Republicans to approve the bill would allow the Democrats to provide political support to Republican Senator Tim Scott.

This assessment was shared by Marc A. Thiessen, a fellow of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, a Fox News contributor and a Washington Post columnist,  He emphasized that stopping such a debate in the Senate eliminated the possibility of having such a discussion in that body for the foreseeable future and even the possibility of having some Democratic amendments adopted. Thiessen claims that the bill already included some Democratic proposed additions: making lynching a federal hate crime, creating a national policing commission to review the U.S. criminal justice system, barring chokeholds by federal officers, withholding federal funds from state and local law enforcement agencies that do not bar chokeholds and that do not report use of non-knock warrants to the U.S. Justice Department. Indeed, according to Thiessen, Senator Scott had said he would vote to support  some of the proposed amendments.[4]

Such a Democratic strategy also would have avoided the embarrassing comment by Senator Richard Durbin (Dem., IL) that the Scott bill was “a token, half-hearted approach,” by an African-American man who personally had experienced police discrimination that compelled the subsequent apology from Senator Durbin.

Moreover, the Democrat-controlled House the next day adopted the more comprehensive reform bill which they wanted and which the Republican-controlled Senate undoubtedly will reject when it goes there.

============================

[1] U.S. Senate, Justice Act, 116th Congress, 2d Sess. (full text); U.S. Senate, JUSTICE Act (Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere): Section-by-Section Analysis,  116th Congress, 2d Sess.; Senator Scott, Press Release: Senator Tim Scott Delivers Fiery Speech on Senate floor After Senate Democrats Stonewall Legislation on Police Reform Across America (June 24, 2020); Senator Scott, Press Release: Senate Democrats Block Police Reform from Coming to Communities Across America (June 24, 2020); Edmondson & Fandos, Senate G.O.P. Unveils Narrow Policing Bill, Setting Up a Clash with Democrats, N.Y. Times (June 17 & 24, 2020); Edmondson, Senate Democrats Block G.O.P. Police bill, calling It Inadequate, N.Y.Times (June 24, 2020); Kim, Senate Democrats block GOP policing bill, stalling efforts to change law enforcement practices, Wash. Post (June 24, 2020); Balko, Both parties’ police reform bills ae underwhelming. Here’s why, Wash. Post (June 24, 2020); Peterson & Zitner, Senate Democrats Block GOP Policing Bill, W.S.J. (June 24, 2020); Editorial, The No Debate Democrats, W.S.J. (June 24, 2020); Bobi, Police Reform Stalls Out in The Senate, HuffPost (June 24, 2020).

[2] Representative Bass, Press Release: House Passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (June 25, 2020); George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (full text);  Congressional Black Caucus, Fact Sheet: George Floyd Justice in Policing Act ; House Passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, N.Y. Times (June 25, 2020); Andrews, House Passes Democrats’ Policing Bill, but No Path Seen for Deal, W.S.J. (June 25, 2020); Carney, Gridlock mires chances of police reform bill, The Hill (June 25, 2020); Brufke, Three GOP lawmakers vote for Democrat-led police reform bill, The Hill (June 25, 2020).

[3] The qualified immunity defense was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Monell v. Department of Social Services (1978) that victims can’t recover damages from the city under the Civil Rights Act of 1871 unless the police misconduct was a breach of an “official policy or custom.” Subsequent Supreme Court cases have reaffirmed that standard to limit liability to “the plainly incompetent” and “those who knowingly violate the law.” (Malley v. Briggs (1986); Mccleary v. Navarro (1982), and just this month the Court refused to hear current cases challenging that standard. (Reuters, Supreme Court Rejects Cases Over ‘Qualified Immunity’ for Police, N.Y. times (June 15, 2020).)  As Peter Schuck, a professor emeritus at Yale Law School, pointed out, a simple amendment of that 1871 statute would eliminate this defense. (Schuck, The Other Police Immunity Problem, W.S.J. (June 24, 2020).) 

[4] Theissen, Democrats’ shameful vote against Tim Scott’s police reform bill, Wash. Post (June 25, 2020).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 10): Wisconsin’s Primary Election

On Tuesday, April 7, the State of Wisconsin held a primary election in the midst of this Pandemic. Previously the State’s Democratic Governor,      , attempted to recognize the impact of the Pandemic on in-person voting by encouraging voting by mail through modifying the rules for the submission and counting of votes by mail, but the Republican-controlled state legislature objected to those changes. This led to litigation. Eventually the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, April 6, by a 5-4 decision, granted the Republican National Committee’s application for a stay of the U.S. district court’s preliminary injunction requiring the State to count absentee ballots postmarked after April 7 (the date of the in-person voting).[1]

This post will examine that Supreme Court decision and the reactions thereto by the New York Times and the Washington Post) and by the Wall Street Journal. This blog post will conlclude by adding its comments to all of this.

The Lower Courts’ Decisions[2]

In early March several individual Wisconsin voters, community organizations and the state and national Democratic parties brought three  lawsuits  in a federal district court in Wisconsin against members of the Wisconsin Elections Commission seeking several forms of relief, all aimed at easing the effects of the pandemic on the upcoming election. The state and national Republican parties intervened as defendants, and on March 28, the federal court consolidated the three cases. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court entered a preliminary injunction extending the deadline for voters to request absentee ballots from April 2 to April 3 and also extending the deadline for election officials to receive completed absentee ballots from April 7 to April 13 (regardless of the postmark date). The preliminary injunction also barred the Elections Commission and election inspectors from releasing any report of the in-person polling before April 13.

The Elections Commission did not challenge the preliminary injunction, but the intervenors (the national and state Republican parties) appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for a stay of the preliminary injunction’s extension of the deadline for returning absentee ballots. However, on April 3, the Seventh Circuit denied such a stay, but granted the application for intervention by the Wisconsin Legislature.

U.S. Supreme Court’s Proceedings

On April 4, the intervenors (state and national Republican parties and Wisconsin Legislature)  filed an emergency application with the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of the district court’s preliminary injunction insofar as it required the State to count absentee ballots postmarked after April 7 (the day of the election). [3]

The next day (April 5) the Democratic National Party filed its response followed by the Republican National Committee’s  reply. [4]

The very next day (April 6) the Supreme court issued its Per Curium majority opinion. This opinion was supported by Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

The Majority Opinion. This opinion started by claiming, “The question before the Court is a narrow, technical questions about the absentee ballot process . . . whether absentee ballots now must be mailed and postmarked by election day, Tuesday, April 7, as state law would necessarily require, or instead by mailed and postmarked after election day, so long as they are received by Monday, April 13.”

Important for the majority of the Court was the fact that the plaintiffs did not seek a preliminary injunction extending the deadline for mailing of absentee ballots. More importantly, the district court’s order “contravened this Court’s precedents” that have “repeatedly emphasized that lower federal courts should ordinarily not alter the election rules on the eve of an election.” (Emphasis added for the unintended ironical use of the word “ordinarily.”)

The majority opinion then criticized the dissent, which will be discussed after the dissenting opinion is summarized.

The Dissenting Opinion . The dissent was authored by Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and joined by Associate Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

This opinion emphasized the importance of this primary election for U.S. president and many state positions in the context of the “COVID-19 pandemic” having become a “public health crisis” and the Governor’s March 24th ordering “Wisconsinites to stay home until April 24 to slow the spread of the disease.As a result, “an unprecedented number of Wisconsin voters—at the encouragement of public officials—have turned to voting absentee. . . . Accommodating the surge of absentee ballot requests has heavily burdened election officials, resulting in a severe backlog of ballots requested but not promptly mailed to voters.” (Emphasis added.)

In response, according to the dissent, after an evidentiary hearing, the district “court concluded that the existing deadlines for absentee voting would unconstitutionally burden Wisconsin citizens’ right to vote.,” and therefore entered the preliminary injunction. (Emphasis added.)

Justice Ginsburg then  pointed out that the Supreme court’s majority “requires absentee voters to postmark their ballots by election day, April 7—i.e., tomorrow—even if they did not receive their ballots by that date.” This “will result in massive disenfranchisement. A voter cannot deliver for postmarking a ballot she has not received. Yet tens of thousands of voters who timely requested ballots are unlikely to receive them by April 7, the Court’s postmark deadline.” (Emphasis added.)

The dissent continued, The majority opinion’s “suggestion that the current situation is not ‘substantially different’ from ‘an ordinary election’ boggles the mind.” (Emphasis added.)

The majority opinion claims that the plaintiffs in the district court did not ask for an injunction allowing ballots postmarked after April 7, but Justice Ginsburg pointed out that “the plaintiffs specifically requested that remedy at the preliminary-injunction hearing in view of the ever-increasing demand for absentee ballots.” (Emphasis added.)

Moreover, “The concerns advanced by the Court and the applicants pale in comparison to the risk that tens of thousands of voters will be disenfranchised. Ensuring an opportunity for the people of Wisconsin to exercise their votes should be our paramount concern.” (Emphasis added.)

The majority opinion is “wrong” to claim that this case presents a “narrow, technical question.” Instead, “The question here is whether tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens can vote safely in the midst of a pandemic. Under the District Court’s order, they would be able to do so.” Under the majority opinion, “that will not be possible. Either they will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety. Or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own. That is a matter of utmost importance—to the constitutional rights of Wisconsin’s citizens, the integrity of the State’s election process, and in this most extraordinary time, the health of the Nation” (Emphasis added.)

The Majority’s Response to the Dissent. This opinion asserts that before the preliminary injunction “the deadline for [election officials’] receiving ballots was already extended to accommodate Wisconsin voters, from April 7 to April 13. Again, that extension has the effect of extending the date for a voter to mail the ballot from, in effect, Saturday, April 4, to Tuesday, April 7. That extension was designed to ensure that the voters of Wisconsin can cast their ballots and have their votes count.” The preliminary injunction’s allowing “voters to mail their ballots after election day . . . is extraordinary relief and would fundamentally alter the nature of the election by allowing voting for six additional days after the election.”

Reactions to Supreme Court’s Decision[5]

The Washington Post’s Editorial Board and columnists as well as New York Times’ columnists unanimously criticized the Supreme Court’s decision. (The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board, however, supported that decision.)

The Post’s editorial pointed out that polling places in Milwaukee had been reduced from 180 to 5, causing “lines [of voters] snaked for blocks, with waits reported to be up to three hours long.” As a result, “plenty of people chose not to vote.” In contrast, “voters in Republican-leaning areas of the state reportedly had a far easier time.” The editorial also noted, “ When people are in line at a polling place at closing time, judges order the polls to stay open. It should have been the same for people who got in line properly for an absentee ballot. The conservative justices’ lack of concern for these thousands of voters will only encourage speculation that their motivation was partisan.”

The most stinging commentary was provided by the Post’s Jennifer Rubin. She noted the irony of the majority’s opinion that delaying the date for return of the absentee ballots “fundamentally alters the nature of the election.” Yes, Rubin said, “it would make it safer (fewer people would have to risk exposing themselves to the coronavirus at the polls) and would encourage more participation.”  This decision “is among the most irresponsible and anti-democratic in recent memory.” She also quoted Michael J. Abramowitz, the President of Freedom House,       , who said,, “the emerging debacle surrounding the Wisconsin primary demonstrates the crucial need to take strong measures to protect elections during the eCOVIS-19 pandemic.” Finally, “Republican politicians and conservative justices will not shy from making voting difficult, dangerous and confusing. Their highest goal is not robust elections, but elections in which fewer voters turnout.. . . [Such] motives (think, suppress voting) are obnoxious and anti-democratic.”

Another Post columnist, E.J. Dionne Jr., said that President Trump had made clear that “for Republicans voter suppression is part of the party’s game plan.” Under a Democratic proposal for federal financing of nation-wide mail-in voting, Trump said, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” He also recently tweeted that voting by mail “for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”

Linda Greenhouse, who has spent four decades studying and writing about the Supreme Court for the New York Times, said, “I’ve rarely seen a development as disheartening as this one: a squirrelly, intellectually dishonest lecture in the form of an unsigned majority opinion . . . about how ‘this court has repeatedly emphasized that lower federal courts should ordinarily not alter the election rules on the eve of an election.’” (Emphasis added.)

“How could they say that,” according to Greenhouse, when “[p}eople shouldn’t ordinarily be afraid of catching a deadly virus when exercising their right to vote. Half the poll-worker shifts in the city of Madison are not ordinarily vacant, abandoned by a work force composed mostly of people at high risk because of their age.” And “Milwaukee voters are not ordinarily reduced to using only five polling places. [Voters and poll workers do not ordinarily hazmat suits.]  And the number of requests for absentee ballots in Milwaukee doesn’t ordinarily grow by a factor of 10, leading to a huge backlog for processing and mailing.” (Emphases added.)

Greenhouse concluded by asserting the Court’s majority was “unwilling to do what they could to help” the Wisconsin election by rejecting the Republicans’ challenge to “the common-sense solution that a federal judge had devised with the support of the officials who actually had to carry out the election.” That majority’s decision “raises the question whether the empowered conservative majority has the situational awareness to navigate the dire situation that faces the country, and whether it can avoid further displays of raw partisanship that threaten to inflict lasting institutional damage on the court itself. It’s a moment that calls on everyone in a position of power to display vision and a generosity of spirit.”  (Emphasis added.)

In addition,, some of the commentators had suggestions for improving election laws.

The previously mentioned E.J. Dionne suggested that “Congress must pass legislation as part of the next economic rescue package that will require mail-in ballots in every state and finance the effort with federal money” and that “Biden and Sanders . . . should hold a joint video news conference with Sens. Elizabeth Warner . . and Amy Klobuchar  . . .on behalf of Warren’s comprehensive bill to provide $4 billion for postage free mail ballots . . .  [and] a ban on onerous voting requirements, hazard pay for poll workers and an end to voter purges at a moment when it will be hard for voters to defend their rights.”  Finally Dionne advocated Liberals to press for “remedies (such as expanding the size of the court0 to battle both conservative court-packing and right-wing judicial activism.”

Richard Hasen,  Professor of Law and Political Science at University of California at Irvine School of Law, said, “[S]tates need to be prepared to thwart and prosecute any attempts to tamper with ballots. . . . states should send an application for an absentee ballot to every voter listed on voting rolls. . . .Voters should also be allowed to request absentee ballots online. . . . States should also prevent the unlimited collection of absentee ballots by private individuals . . . . some voters who need assistance getting their votes to the U.S. mail or to a state collection box . . . . Absentee voters should be told if their ballots are being rejected for technical reasons — such as a purported mismatched signature — and have the chance to cure the problem and have their ballot counted.”

David Byler, a data analyst and political columnist focusing on elections, polling, demographics and statistics, offered these thoughts. “We should keep one feature of this messy Wisconsin election around: a slower process for reporting results. . . .This restriction made for a relatively muted election night: Reporters weren’t live-tweeting votes as they came in, quickly writing takes on how to interpret the race or trying to spin out a second-day story. . . . Ramping up vote-by-mail would extend the franchise, help virus-proof our system and make the process more psychologically bearable.”

John Hickenlooper, a former mayor of Denver and governor of Colorado and current candidate for the U.S. Senate, described his state’s successful voting from home for the last six years as a model for reforming other jurisdictions’ election laws. “Every eligible Colorado voter receives a ballot in the mail roughly three weeks before Election Day, and after marking their choices from the comfort of their own home, voters mail the ballot back or deposit it at one of the hundreds of drop-off locations around the state (and put on their “I Voted” sticker). We also make it possible for voters to register through Election Day, and to vote in person. Denver city and county voters even have the ability to track the status of their ballots, with email or text notifications, as they travel through the postal system. The “Ballot TRACE” software ensures that every mailed ballot is accounted for.”

In addition, Hickenlooper says, “In Colorado, election officials conduct rigorous risk-limiting audits after elections. They also use a centralized database to compare signatures in the voter file with those on ballot envelopes and track ballot returns to keep an eye out for any possible irregularities. And, of course, one advantage of using mailed ballots is that paper can’t be hacked.”  This system has increased voter turnout by 3.3% and saved about $6 per voter from reduced printing, labor and other costs. In its first year it increased turnout of unlikely voters (younger and low-propensity voters) by 20 %.

The lone contrary voice on these issues from prominent mainline newspapers was the Wall Street Journal’s editorial, which said the Supreme Court “rightly reversed a district judge’s last-minute order that would have allowed Wisconsin ballots to be cast after the election was legally over. The confusing episode is a reminder that, even in a pandemic, steps as grave as rewriting voting rules should be up to elected representatives and not freelanced by judges.”

Conclusion

Needless to say, this blogger agrees with the Washington Post and New York Times. Voting by U.S. citizens is an unalienable right and needs to be encouraged and protected, not suppressed. This especially is true during times that are not ordinary, like the current pandemic.

==================================

 

[1] Opinions, Republican Nat’l Comm. v. Democratic Nat’l Comm., No. 19A1016 (U.S. Sup. Ct. April 6, 2020).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Emergency Application for Stay, Republican Nat’l Comm. v. Democratic Nat’l Comm, (No. 19A1016, U.S. Sup. Ct. April 4,  2020).

[4]   Response to Application for Emergency Stay, Republican Nat’l Comm. v. Democratic Nat’l Comm (No. 19A1016  (U.S. Sup. Ct. April 5, 2020); Reply in Support of Emergency Application for Stay, Republican Nat’l Comm. v. Democratic Nat’l Comm (No. 19A1016 U.S. Sup Ct. April 5, 2020).

[5] Editorial, Wisconsin Republican leaders put voters in an impossible position, Wash. Post (April 7, 2020); Rubin, Wisconsin shows the fragility of democracy, Wash. Post (April 7, 2020); E.J. Dionne, Jr., What we learned from Wisconsin, Wash. Post (April 8, 2020); Marcus, Wisconsin’s debacle may be the most infuriating of the coronavirus failures, Wash. Post (April 7, 2020); Waldman, Wisconsin’s election nightmare is a preview of what could happen in November, Wash. Post (April 7, 2020); Olsen, There’s plenty of room to compromise on mail-in voting. Get it done, Wash. Post (April 8, 2020); Byler, The Wisconsin election was a mess. But there’s one element of it worth emulating, Wash. Post (April 8, 2020); Hickenlooper, We’ve been voting at home for six years in my state. It’s time to do it nationally, Wash. Post (April 8, 2020); Hasen, Trump is wrong about the dangers of absentee ballots, Wash. Post (April 9, 2020); Editorial, You Shouldn’t Have to Risk Your Life to Vote, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2020); Greenhouse, The Supreme Court Fails Us, N.Y. Times (April 9, 2020); Assoc. Press, In Wisconsin, Missing Absentees Spur Questions and Anger, N.Y. Times (April 9, 2020) ;Boule, The G.O.P. Has Turned Voting in Person Into a Death Threat, N.Y. Times (April 10, 2020) (“There is no part of the Republican Party — not its president in the White House, not its leadership in Congress, not its conservative allies on the Supreme Court, not its interest groups or its affiliated media — that has an interest in or commitment to a fair, equal and expansive democracy.”); Douglas, Yes, Wisconsin Republicans used the pandemic to stop people from voting, Guardian (April 9, 2020) (Douglas, a professor at Amherst College: “Wisconsin, once a thriving crucible of progressive politics, has turned into a vanguard of the Republican assault on democracy.”); Editorial, Wisconsin’s Election Confusion, W.S.J. (April 7, 2020).

 

 

 

Professor Orlando Patterson’s Discussion of Affirmative Action

On November 1, 2019, Orlando Patterson, the John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard University, made a presentation about human rights and freedom at a meeting of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights.{1]

Now he has set forth views on the related subject of affirmative action in a New York Times review of a book on that subject—The Affirmative Action Puzzle: A Living History From Reconstruction to Today by Malvin L. Urofsky.[2]

Patterson’s prelude to this review says, “For two and a half centuries America enslaved its black population, whose labor was a critical source of the country’s capitalist modernization and prosperity. Upon the abolition of legal, interpersonal slavery, the exploitation and degradation of blacks continued in the neo-slavery system of Jim Crow, a domestic terrorist regime fully sanctioned by the state and courts of the nation, and including Nazi-like instruments of ritualized human slaughter. Black harms and losses accrued to all whites, both to those directly exploiting them, and indirectly to all enjoying the enhanced prosperity their social exclusion and depressed earnings made possible.” These long years, he suggests, were a period of white-affirmative action. (Emphasis added.)

Patterson then says, “white affirmative action was first developed on a large scale in the New Deal welfare and social programs, and later in the huge state subsidization of suburban housing — a major source of present white wealth — blacks . . . were systematically excluded, to the benefit of the millions of whites whose entitlements would have been less, or whose housing slots would have been given to blacks in any fairly administered system. In this unrelenting history of deprivation, not even the comforting cultural productions of black artists were spared: From Thomas “Daddy” Rice in the early 19th century right down to Elvis Presley, everything of value and beauty that blacks created was promptly appropriated, repackaged and sold to white audiences for the exclusive economic benefit and prestige of white performers, who often added to the injury of cultural confiscation the insult of blackface mockery.” (Italic emphasis in original; bold emphases added.)

Subsequently the nonwhite version of affirmative action, Patterson continues, was begun by “the American state and corporate system” in the middle of the last century to tackle “this inherited patterns racial injustice , and its persisting inequities.” A comprehensive account of this “nonwhite version” is provided in the Urofsky book except for his failure to include the U.S. military, which has the best record of nonwhite racial integration and achievement. Urofsky distinguishes between “soft affirmative action. . . aimed at removing barriers only,” which he favors, and hard affirmative action, which attempts positive actions to make observable betterment of the excluded group” and which he does not favor even though it admittedly does not work. As President Lyndon Johnson said in a 1965 commencement address at Howard University, “It is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.” [3] (Emphases added.)

According to Patterson, Urofsky also points out the success of President Nixon’s Machiavellian “Philadelphia Plan,” which had minority business set-asides and insistence on craft unions acceptance of blacks and which resulted in “major improvements for blacks at all levels of the economy, to the applause of nearly every black leader.” But this Nixon program also was an important part of his Southern strategy “to shatter the bond between white working-class union members and the Democratic Party” and to create a new bond between those workers and the Republican Party.

In conclusion, Patterson says this nonwhite affirmative action “is now an integral part of the moral, cultural, military, political and economic fabric of the nation. Its businesses, educational system and political directorate have largely embraced it and the . . . [Supreme Court] undoes it at the cost of its own legitimacy.” This is so even though it is questionable whether this nonwhite affirmative action “could have solved all or even most of the problems of blacks, women and other disadvantaged groups. That surely must await more fundamental structural and political changes that might address America’s chronic postindustrial inequality and labor precariousness.” 

Conclusion

Characterizing the many decades of slavery and Jim Crow measures as “white affirmative action” was a new labeling for this blogger, but it makes sense. It also provides another justification for the more recent era of nonwhite affirmative action.

This blogger also was not familiar with Presdient Johnson’s commencement address at Howard University, which will be discussed in a subsequent post.

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[1] U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights Meeting, November 1, 2019), dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 20, 2020); Reactions to U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights Meeting, November 1, 2019, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 21, 2020) 

[2] Patterson, Affirmative Action: The Uniquely American Experiment, N.Y. Times Book Review (Feb. 23, 2020) 

Two Federal Appellate Courts Uphold Subpoenas for Trump Accounting Records  (Updated 11/22/19)   

Over the last two weeks two federal appellate courts have upheld different subpoenas to the Mazars USA accounting firm for records relating to Donald J. Trump.

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

As discussed in a prior post, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on October 11, 2019, upheld (2-1) a subpoena by an U.S. House of Representatives committee to Mazars for certain Trump accounting records.

A month later, on November 13, that court denied, 8-3, Trump’s motion for the full (en banc) court to review that decision of the three-judge panel.[1] As is typical, there was no opinion by the eight judges denying the motion. However, two of the three dissenting judges, wrote opinions.

Judge Gregory Katsas joined by Judge Karen Henderson, said, “this case presents exceptionally important questions regarding the separation of powers among Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary. For the second time in American history, an Article III court has undertaken to enforce a congressional subpoena for the records of a sitting President. The first time this was attempted with then President Nixon, this court refused to enforce the subpoena, stressing “the availability of impeachment foreclosed any conclusion that the records at issue were ‘demonstrably critical to the responsible fulfillment’ of Congress’s legislative prerogatives, even when Congress was investigating significant allegations of presidential misconduct. Senate Select Comm. on Presidential Campaign Activities v. Nixon, 498 F.2d 725, 731–33 (D.C. Cir. 1974) (en banc).”

The other dissenting opinion, by Judge Neomi Rao, who also was joined by Judge Henderson, emphasized that this subpoena was not really justifiable by the congressional power to enact new laws. It was really a subpoena looking for impeachable offenses, which is not part of the legislative power.

Afterwards an attorney for Trump said that he would now petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

And on November 15, his attorneys did just that by asking Chief Justice John Roberts, who is responsible for emergency requests from the D.C. Circuit, for a stay of proceedings while the Supreme Court considers his petition for review of the merits of the lower court’s decision. This request argued for such a stay for the following reasons: (I) “There is a reasonable probability that the Court will grant certiorari to determine whether the Committee’s subpoena is lawful.” (II) “There is a fair prospect that this Court will reverse the D.C. Circuit’s decision upholding the subpoena.” (III) “Applicants will suffer irreparable harm without a stay.” (IV) “The balance of equities and relative harms weigh strongly in favor of granting a stay.” [2]

On November 18, the attorneys for the House Committee filed a letter with the Supreme Court announcing that they planned to file an opposition to the requested stay on November 22, but that out of courtesy to the Court the Committee does not oppose “a short ten-day administrative stay, beginning on November 20, 2019, to enable the Court to receive an opposition by the Committee and then rule on the request for a stay. Thereafter the same day, Chief Justice Roberts ordered “that the mandate of . . . [the D.C. Circuit] is hereby stayed pending receipt of a response, due on or before Thursday, November 21, 2019, by 3 p.m. ET, and further order of the undersigned or of the Court.”[3]

One of Trump’s attorneys, William S. Consovoy, “said the Supreme Court’s intervention was imperative. Under the lower court’s decision, ‘any committee of Congress can subpoena any personal information from the President; all the committee needs to say is that it’s considering legislation that would force Presidents to disclose that same information. Given the temptation to dig up dirt on political rivals, intrusive subpoenas into personal lives of Presidents will become our new normal in times of divided government — no matter which party is in power. If every committee chairman is going to have this unbounded authority, this Court should be the one to say so.”

In accordance with that order, the House Committee on November 21 submitted its opposition to the Trump motion. It argued that the Court’s precedents involving Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton make clear that the chief executive enjoys no special privilege to be free from investigation or legal action and that a stay would cause irreparable harm to the Congress and the public, outweighing whatever harm enforcement of the subpoena would cause Trump and Mazars. The House Committee also argued that if the Court agrees to a stay of a lower court’s order, the Court should expedite a decision on whether to order a full briefing and a hearing on the case.[4]

Second Circuit Court of Appeals

Such a petition to the Supreme Court would join a similar one by Trump from a November 4 unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City upholding a state grand jury subpoena for accounting records from the Mazars firm relating to a probe into whether the accounting for payments Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to two women violated state laws against falsifying business documents. .[5]

During the oral appellate argument of this case, one of the judges asked the Trump attorney if local authorities could investigate President Trump if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York City, and the attorney said the authorities could not so investigate.

After the Second Circuit’s decision, Jay Sekulow, an attorney for Trump, said that Trump would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case because, he claimed, ““The issue raised in this case goes to the heart of our republic. The constitutional issues are significant.”

In fact, on November 14, Trump petitioned the Supreme Court for a review of the following issues in this case: (I) “Whether the President is absolutely immune is an important and unsettled issue of federal law that the Court should resolve” and (II)   “The Second Circuit incorrectly decided this important immunity question.” The petition also alleged, “For the first time in our nation’s history, a state or local prosecutor has launched a criminal investigation of the President of the United States and subjected him to coercive criminal process. . . . Politically motivated subpoenas like this one are a perfect illustration of why a sitting president should be categorically immune from state criminal process.”[6]

In a contemporaneous statement, Sekelow stated, “”The Second Circuit decision is wrong and should be reversed. In our petition, we assert that the subpoena violates the U.S. Constitution and therefore is unenforceable. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will grant review in this significant constitutional case and reverse the dangerous and damaging decision of the appeals court.”

The Department of Justice also filed with the Supreme Court an amicus brief supporting Trump’s petition while saying that there are instances when a local prosecutor might legally seek a president’s documents — but that this was not one of them.[7]

Trump filed this petition so immediately because of his attorneys’ agreement with the New York prosecuting attorneys whereby the latter “agreed not to seek the tax returns until the case is resolved by the Supreme Court” so long as Trump agreed to “a very quick briefing schedule, one that would allow the Supreme Court to announce whether it will hear the case as soon as next month and to issue a decision by June, as the presidential election enters its final stages.”

Conclusion

Now the parties to these cases will be joined by all of us in the U.S. and elsewhere for the briefing on whether the Supreme Court should grant such review, the Court’s decision on these petitions and, if review is granted, the briefing and oral arguments in that court and its ultimate decision (in the midst of the 2020 presidential campaign).

==================================

[1]  Order, Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP and Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, No. 19-5142 (D.C. Cir. Nov. 13, 2019); Savage, Court Rejects Trump’s Appeal in Fight to Keep Financial Records from Congress, N.Y. Times (Nov. 13, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Appeals Court Again Backs House Request for Trump Tax Documents, N.Y. Times (Nov. 14, 2019).

[2] Emergency Application for a Stay of Mandate Pending the Filing and Disposition of a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP, Committee on Oversight and Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, No. 19A545 (Nov. 15, 2019); Liptak, Trump Again Asks Supreme Court to Block Release of His Financial Records, N.Y. Times (Nov. 15, 2019); Hurley & Freifeld, Trump asks Supreme Court to block disclosure of financial records to Congress, Reuters (Nov. 15, 2019); Barnes & Marimow, Trump appeals to Supreme Court again, this time to block House committee’s subpoena seeking his financial records, Wash. Post (Nov. 15, 2019).

[3] Letter, House Committee to Clerk of Supreme Court, Trump v. Mazars USA, No. 19A545 (Nov. 18, 2019); Order, Trump v. Mazars USA, No. 19A545 (Nov. 18, 2019) Trump v. Mazars USA, No. 19A545 (Nov. 18, 2019); Barnes, Supreme Court puts temporary hold on Trump financial records ruling, Wash. Post (Nov. 18, 2019); Liptak, Chief Justice Gives Trump Temporary Reprieve in Financial Records Case, N.Y. Times (Nov. 18, 2019).

[4] Barnes, Supreme court precedents do not shield Trump financial records, House, prosecutors argue, Wash. Post (Nov. 21, 2019); Reuters, Democrats Urge U.S. Supreme Court Not to Protect Trump Financial Records, N.Y. Times (Nov. 21, 2019); House Committee, Opposition to Emergency Application for a Stay of Mandate, No. 19A545 (Sup. Ct. Nov. 21, 2019).

[5] Opinion, Trump v. Vance, No. 19-3204 (2d Cir. Nov. 4, 2019); Weiser & Liptak, Trump Taxes: Appeals Court Rules President Must Turn Over 8 Years of Tax Returns, N.Y. Times (Nov. 14, 2019); Neumeister, Appeals court agrees Trump tax returns can be turned over, Wash. Post (Nov. 4, 2019).

[6] Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Trump v. Vance, No. —- (U.S. Sup Ct. Nov. 14, 2019); Liptak, Trump Asks Supreme Court to Bar Release of His Tax Returns, N.Y. Times (Nov. 14, 2019); Barnes & Marimow, Trump asks Supreme Court to shield his tax returns from prosecutors, setting up historic separation-of-powers showdown, Wash. Post (Nov. 14, 2019); Bravin, Kendall & Ramey, Trump Asks Supreme Court to Block New York Subpoena for Tax Records, W.S.J. (Nov. 14, 2019); Samuelson & Gerstein, Trump lawyers take fight over tax returns to Supreme Court, Politico (Nov. 14, 2019); deVogue, Trump asks Supreme Court to block subpoena for tax returns, CNN.com (Nov. 14, 2019).

[7] Barnes, Supreme court precedents do not shield Trump financial records, House, prosecutors argue, Wash. Post (Nov. 21, 2019); Reuters, Democrats Urge U.S. Supreme Court Not to Protect Trump Financial Records, N.Y. Times (Nov. 21, 2019); Liptak, Justice Dept. Urges Supreme Court to Back Trump in Tax Records Case, N.Y. Times (Nov. 22, 2019); Vance, Jr.,  Brief in Opposition, No. 19-635 (Sup. Ct. Nov. 21, 2019).