“Reading the two sets of briefs, it’s like two ships passing in the night” – Coats, J. (oral argument). This case raised one of two questions about Amendment 23’s (Am 23) school funding mandate: what does “base” mean or, was it rendered meaningless? A “negative factor” was created by the legislature for the purpose of reducing the State’s school funding obligations. Am 23 mandates annual increases to “statewide base per pupil funding.” The Negative Factor reduces nearly all other parts of the funding formula without reducing “base” funding. The majority held that so long as there is no reduction in “base funding,” the “algebraic significance [of the Negative Factor] within the funding formula is immaterial [to Am 23’s mandate].” The dissent noted that the Negative Factor eliminates the school funding increases intended by Am 23, creating fact questions that preclude dismissal.
Category Archives: Constitutional
Lindi Dwyer and Paul Dwyer, as individuals and parents of Jayda Dwyer, Joslyn Dwyer, Janesha Dwyer, and Jentri Dwyer, et. al. v. The State of Colorado; Robert Hammond as Commissioner of Education; and John Hickenlooper as Governor of the State of Colorado, 2015CO58 (Sept. 21, 2015)
“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions.” Ulysses Grant. Petitioners challenged a scholarship program that required enrollment in a “charter school” and admission to a qualified private school. Taxpayer money funded the scholarship, which was paid to the parents who then paid the private school. Nearly 93% of recipients enrolled in religious schools. The Court held the program unconstitutional under Colorado’s expansive prohibition on public funding of “sectarian” schools because the program “supports and sustains” such schools. The element of private choice was insufficient absent safeguards against funding religious schools. As such, invalidating the program does not violate the 1st Amendment. Petitioners lacked taxpayer standing to challenge the program under a statute.
The CLR does not normally post summaries of US Supreme Court decisions. In this case, there are immediate implications for Family Law practitioners in Colorado, as well as other civil litigators pursuing or defending claims under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Therefore, the CLR will issue 2 posts related to this decision. Part I is a summary of the majority opinion and Part II is a summary of the dissenting opinions.
“The fundamental right to marry does not include a right to make a State change its definition of marriage.” Roberts, C.J. The 4 dissenting justices raised various arguments against extending marriage to same-sex couples by Court decree including (in no particular order): 1) the decision should rest with the people, resolved through elected representatives, not 5 lawyers; 2) courts do not substitute their judgment for that of the people; 3) limiting marriage is not an unconstitutional act by a State; 4) liberty is freedom from government action not a claim to government benefits; 5) dignity is neither granted nor taken away by government; and 6) children are best served by a marriage between a man and woman. A shared theme is that by deciding the scope of a Constitutional right, the Court has taken a power it should not claim, has created more division, and ended democratic debate.
The following are all the cases on Writs of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Sixth Circuit decided in this decision:
14–556, James Obergefell, et. al., Petitioners v. Richard Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et. al.;
14–562, Valeria Tanco, et. al., Petitioners v. Bill Haslam, Governor of Tennessee, et. al.;
14–571, April DeBoer, et. al., Petitioners v. Rick Snyder, Governor of Michigan, et. al.;
14–574, Gregory Bourke, et. al., Petitioners v. Steve Beshear, Governor of Kentucky.
Can you sue someone for suing you without violating the First Amendment’s right to petition the government? Yes, in purely private disputes. Imagine you are a former employee and you do something your former employer does not like, as happened to defendants here. Your former employer (plaintiff) sues you. You then want to sue your former employer for suing you claiming abuse of process or tortious interference. Your former employer defends by claiming that its right to sue (petition using the courts) is protected by the First Amendment. Your former employer would be wrong in Colorado. The Court held that First Amendment protections from suits related to matters of public interest (as provided in the POME case) do not extend to purely private disputes. The Court came to the same conclusion in the arbitration context in General Steel, which it extended to this case.
Cynthia H. Coffman, as Attorney General, and Julie Ann Meade, as the Administrator of the Uniform Debt Management Services Act, v. Lawrence W. Williamson, Jr., Esq.; Donald Drew Moore, Esq.; and Morgan Drexen, Inc., a California corporation, and Walter Joseph Ledda, 2015CO35 (May 26, 2015).
“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” – Jane Austen. Some companies offer debt-management services to debtors. Plaintiff is one of them. They are regulated by CRS 12-14.5-202. (the DMSA). Attorneys providing such services are exempt from regulation. Plaintiff (consisting entirely of nonlawyers) hired “local counsel” and sought “legal services exemption.” The Court, interpreting the DMSA with Colo.RPC 5.3, held that nonlawyer assistants may be exempt if they work for an attorney in substance, not just in name, and under the attorney’s supervision. Here, Plaintiff’s attorneys, some out-of-state , did not actually provide meaningful instruction or supervision. Although the Court, through CRCP 205.1, not the Legislature, regulates attorneys, the DMSA did violate the Separation of Powers doctrine. Thus, Plaintiff was subject to regulation.
Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc., Mike Smith; David Habecker; Timothy G. Bailey; and Jeff Baysinger, 2014CO77 (Nov. 24, 2014)
No harm, no foul. Individuals have standing to sue the government if the government’s actions cause them an injury-in-fact. An injury can be tangible or intangible, but not indirect or incidental. Taxpayers have standing to sue as taxpayers, if the government expenditure is related to the alleged harm. Here, nonbelievers sued over the constitutionality of Colorado’s Day of Prayer proclamations. The Court dismissed not because the proclamations were unconstitutional, but because the Plaintiffs were not injured by them. The incidental expenditure of public funds on overhead was not sufficient to establish taxpayer standing. Plaintiffs also claimed psychic harm by the issuance of the proclamations that politically excluded them by promoting religion, due to their nonbelief. But the government did not coerce, punish, or prevent them from having or changing their beliefs.
Gary Justice, Kathleen Hopkins, Eugene Halaas, Jr., and Robert Laird, Jr. v. The State of Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper, Colorado PERA, Carole Wright, and Maryann Motza, 2014CO75 (Oct. 20, 2014)
A contract is a promise the law will enforce. The Contract Clauses of Colorado’s and the US’s Constitutions protect existing contracts from laws that would later impair their performance. Public employees have received retirement benefits from PERA since 1931. Cost of living adjustments (COLA) began in 1969 and have evolved ever since. In 2000, the statutory COLA rate was 3.5%. In 2010, the legislature changed it to 2%. Employees who retired between 2001 and 2010 sued the State for violating the Contracts Clause, claiming a violation of their contractual right to the 3.5% COLA at the time of their retirement. The Court ruled there was no contract right guaranteeing a particular COLA formula because 1) it has changed repeatedly over time and 2) there is no express intent that the 2000 legislature intended to bind the 2010 legislature regarding the COLA formula for pre-2010 retirees.
Scott Gessler, as Secretary of State v. Colorado Common Cause and Colorado Ethics Watch, 2014CO44 (June 16, 2014)
When the financial burden of state regulation of issue committees approaches or exceeds the value of the financial contributions to a political effort, such regulations may unconstitutionally burden freedom of association. Samson v. Buescher. Colorado’s Constitution art. XXVIII sec. 2(10)(a)(II) and CRS 1-45-108 establish a $200 threshold for registering issue committees and for reporting contributions and expenditures retro- and prospectively (Limits). Samson found the Limits to be unconstitutional as applied to a small-scale issue committee. To address the confusion caused by Samson, Gessler promulgated CCR 1505-6:4.27 (now Rule 4.1), setting the threshold at $5000, applied prospectively only. The Court set aside Rule 4.1 as contrary to the still-valid Limits, which could be constitutionally applied in cases dissimilar from Samson’s $2000 in contributions.
Town of Dillon v. Yacht Club Condominiums Home Owners Association, Steve Delaney, and Robert R. Duncan, 2014CO37 (May 27, 2014)
“[A] municipality certainly need not wait for more accidents to happen before addressing a perceived danger.” Opinion. Condominium owners in Dillon were parking on a road that is a public right-of-way. Dillon passed ordinances to improve a bike lane, drainage and traffic safety and gave the police chief the power to designate no-parking zones on any of Dillon’s right-of-way streets. Citing safety concerns, Chief did so on the road where the owners were parking . The owners successfully sued, claiming the ordinances were an unconstitutional abuse of Dillon’s police power by reducing property values despite less burdensome alternatives. The Court reversed, holding that the proper test for constitutional due process challenges to ordinances is whether an ordinance has a reasonable relation to public health, safety, morals, or welfare. The burden of compliance is not a factor.
In Re: Maurice C. Jones, and and Citizen Center, v. Christian R. Samora, Treasurer; Town of Center; Herman Dickey Sisneros; Edward W. Garcia; and Geraldine Martinez, 2014CO4 (Jan. 27, 2014, as modified Feb. 24, 2014)
“[B]y 1896, the vast majority of states had adopted the Australian [secret] ballot system.” – Opinion. The Town of Center held an election recalling its mayor and trustees. A recalled trustee sued to have the election declared void, arguing that leaving absentee ballot stubs attached during the counting process violated the secrecy guarantee of the CO Constitution, Art. VII, Sec. 8. The trial court, relying on precedent set in Taylor v. Pile voided the election, even though the election’s fundamental integrity remained uncompromised. After reviewing the history of ballot secrecy and changes to Colorado election law, the Court reversed. The Court held 1) Sec. 8 applies only to marking ballots, not to detachable stubs, and 2) an election must be set aside only when an entire election is not secret. The statutory violations of CRS 31-10-607 and 1007 were not sufficient.