essay, legal, /fiction, March 30, 1986
Spring 1986 March 30, 1986, writing section 4/ fictitious essay
Snooth v. Beachport
1. Do the plaintiffs, Bic Snooth and Dawn Deal, have standing to sue in the U.S. Supreme Court as members of an injured class of emplioyees allegedly discriminated against by a municipal ordinance requiring employee registration with the police?
2. Does an employee identification requirement in a municipal ordinance place an undue burden on interstate commerce, or is the statue a legitimate exercise of state police power necessary for protecting the health or safety of the community?
3. Does a provision requiring all employees to register with the police before accepting employment in the town of Beachport, Maine; discriminate in effect among a class of people, thereby violating the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, or is the classification necessary for protection of a legitimate state interest in reducing crime?
Defendant's appeal could be successful in the Supreme Court should the court continue its trend of allowing state autonomy in internal legislation regulating public safety, without creating suspect classifications or unduly restricting commerce. Should the court decide that no classification that discriminates in effect against minorities has been created by the ordinance, and that the identification of groups of employees for the purpose of prevention of crime is the substantially-related objective of the state law; the court may find favorably for the defendant and subject the law to intermediate or to a rationally-related level of scrutiny. However, if the classification of employees suggests unnecessary discrimination in effect, then the court will use strict scrutiny to determine whether the ordiinance was intended to discriminate.
The charge of undue restriction on interstate commerce will be subjected to a three-pronged test that will determine the substantiality of the restriction and the social policy that necessitates the restriction to benefit the public welfare. For the state to achieve the goal of reducing and deterring crime in Beachport, an incidental or slight burden on commerce may be tolerated, as long as the statute justifies the slight burden, and no alternative policy could create a satisfactory result.
Statement of Facts:
Plaintiffs, Bic Snooth and Dawn Deal, filed a complaint against the town of Beachport claiming that Article V. S/s 17-92, 17-94 of the Town of Beachport Code, (see Appendix A) requiring all specified employees to register with the police for the purpose of receiving identification cards is unconstitutional and should be invalidated and enjoined from enforcement.
Plaintiffs, who claim they were deterred from accepting employment in the town of Beachport because of the requirement that employees must register with the local police and receive an identification card that must be carried at all times, claim that this requirement renders the ordinance unconstitutional, and violates the commerce clause, and the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Snooth is a black, male U.S.citizen, who is a resident of Beachport. After refusing the registration procedure, Snooth claims that he was unable to accept employment in Beachport, after two months found part-time work, and migrated to Beachfront six months prior to litigation to accept full-time employment as a computer salesman.
Deal is a white, female, U.S. citizen, also a resident of Beachport. She would not submit to fingerprinting or the signature requirement of police registration, and quit her job as a waitress at Buddy's to work as a part-time waitress elsewhere.
Both claim that they would seek employment in Beachport if the police registration requirement in the Town of Beachport Code is abolished by the court. Police registration includes fingerprinting, and personal information of name, employer, occupation, date of birth, height,...race, sex,...signature.).
Beachport has enacted the ordinance to help police deter and solve crimes in Beachport, a community that loses between 250,000 and 500,000 dollars per year to theft of personal property. Police state that employees are often suspects.
The general rules for determining standing to sue in the U.S. Supreme Court include: "claiment must have such a personal stake in the outcome of controversy as to assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court so largely depends for illumination of difficult constitutional questions." Baker v. Carr, 102 S.Ct .732 (1982), that "plaintiff must have suffered, or be threatened with a distinct and personal injury," Warth v. Seldin, 91 S.Ct. 2197 (1975), and that "there must be a causal connection between plaintiff's asserted injury and defendant's challenged action." Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Corp., 429 U.S. 252 (1977).
The court has attempted to apply the aforementioned criteria to plaintiffs bringing suit in the Supreme Court; to reiterate, plaintiff must have a "minimum personal stake requirement," he/she must be a member of the injured class, and a nexus element connecting the injury sustained to the actionable legislation must be shown.
In this action, plaintiffs Bic Snooth and Dawn Deal are both citizens of the United States and residents of Beachport. Bic Snooth claims that he declined employment at the Computer Mall because of the local ordinance requiring him to register and be fingerprinted by the police in order to obtain the requisite employee identification card. (see Town of Beachport Code, Article V S/s 17-92, 17-94).
Because he was without employment for two months due to his non-compliance with the registration requirement, and because after a period of part-time employment, Snooth left the state to seek and accept full-time employment in Beachfront, Virginia; he most likely meets the criteria the court will apply to determine standing.
His personal stake in the outcome is compensation for the periods of unemployment caused by his non-registry with the police minus his part-time employment wages; he is most likely a member of the class of people injured by the statute because he had been offered work prior to his decision not to register; hence his refusal to complete identification proceedings with the police caused his unemployment (and also a continuing harm that would be remedied by enjoining enforcement of the ordinance); and his injury (unemployment and eventual migration from the state) was caused by the registration mandated by the statute.
Applying these criteria to Dawn Deal yields a similar conclusion. Deal is a resident female citizen who refused to complete registration proceedings with the police department (no fingerprints, no signature), although she accepted employment as a waitress in Beachport until she received a comparable offer from another restaurant. Deal now works as a part-time waitress. Because of her residence and family in Beachport, she has a minimum personal stake (under Baker v. Carr) in becoming employed in the area. As an employee and resident of Beachport, she is also a member of the class of people injured by the identification ordinance, and suffers continuing harm;--her options for employment in Beachport may be limited by non-registration to jobs not covered by Article V S/s 17-92, 17-94; therefore, the registration clause is the causal nexus of her injury.
The United States Constitution states that "the Congress shall have Power...To regulate commerce...among the several states..." U.S. Const. Article I, S/s 8, cl.3.
However, past holdings in the Supreme Court have attempted to define parameters for Congressional authority regarding state autonomy. "There are limits upon the power of Congress to override state sovereignty, even when exercising its otherwise plenary powers to tax or to regulate commerce...." Federal legislation was held to "impermissably interfere with the integral governmental functions of the states...in such areas as fire prevention, police protection..." National League of Cities v.Usury, 96 S.Ct. 2465. In order to regulate through the commerce clause, federal legislation must show that state authority has a "substantial effect on commerce." Hodel v. West Virginia Surface Min. & Recl. Ass'n. 452 U.S. 64 (1981).
Similarly, a Court reviewing a state ordinance must consider state autonomy "should the statute in question have only an incidental effect on commerce and enact a legitimate local purpose." Hughes v. Oklahoma, 441 U.S. 1322 (1979).
A question, then, is whether the enforcement of the statute serves a social purpose that justifies its slight burden on commerce.
The Town of Beachport Code, Article V, S/s 17-92, 17-94, was enacted to "assist in identifying and apprehending criminals" and "to deter fugitives from moving into Beachport." Plaintiffs claim that the ordinance interferes with the migration of laborers into Beachport. However, the statute attempts to regulate property crimes in the area, and it applies to both residents and non-residents of Beachport equally. By applying the tests suggested by previous holdings, the municipal ordinance seems to: 1) "regulate evenhandedly, with incidental effects on interstate commerce," and 2) "serve a legitimate local purpose." Uncertainty remains as to "whether alternative means could promote this local purpose as well without discriminating against interstate commerce." Hughes v. Oklahoma, 441 U.S. 1322 (1979).
The aforementioned cases can be distinguished from this action because the burden on commerce caused by the state legislation was overturned by an attempt by Congress to impose federal sanctions over state laws. Courts found that Congress did not have sufficient justification for imposing on state autonomy.
In this case, no federal legislation has been imposed, and the court must consider whether it would be unduly infringing on the rights of the states to govern themselves with reasonable regulations rationally related to achieving a social policy and imposing only a slight or incidental burden on interstate commerce while trying to reach the objectives here: reducing local crime.
Should the court find that the burden to commerce is slight, and that the statute intends only to regulate crime, it may find that federal action would be inappropriate and would interfere with state policy objectives.
Should the free flow of interstate labor be considered significantly impeded because of the statute, the court may declare the ordinance unconstitutional under the commerce clause and suggest that the state find an alternative means to reduce crime.
Courts have found that in order to invoke the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, "state legislation that is facially nondiscriminatory must have an invidious effect upon a classification of persons." Past holdings include "a lawmaking procedure that disadvantages a particular group does not always deny equal protection," James v. Valtierra, 91 S.Ct. 1331; and "official action is not unconstitutional solely because it results in a racially disproportionate impact." Arlington Heights v. Davis.
This action claims that employees in occupations specified in Article V, S/s 17-92, 17-94 of the Town of Beachport Code are discriminated against in effect by having to register with the local police for identification cards. Employees are not given partial treatment for residence-nonresidence status or race or sex characteristics under the ordinance, as they have been in the cases previously mentioned.
The statute is intended to identify employees in hotels, taxis, bars, clubs, restaurants...and department stores for the purpose of deterring property crimes costing inhabitants 250,000 to 500,000 dollars per year. All employees in the classification are required to comply with registration procedures.
In order for the equal protection clause to be violated, "the invidious quality of a law claimed to be racially discriminatory must ultimately be traced to a racially discriminatory purpose."
In Arlington Heights, a testing requirement that indirectly affected black employees, who tended to perform poorly as a group, was not declared unconstitutional, because no intent to discriminate was shown in the statute.
The ordinance enacted by the Town of Beachport does not invidiously discriminate among employees required to register, it does not affect one classification of employees more than another, and its enforcement sustains the legitimate state purpose of deterring and solving crimes. Therefore, a court could be unlikely to rule that the statute discriminates among a classification that was created for the purpose of regulating public welfare.
If the statute is not found to discriminate among employees required to register with the town police, the Supreme Court may apply the rational basis standard to determine whether state law was enacted to meet social objectives.
The court may find a higher level of scrutiny is required, however in determining that the statute does not invidiously discriminate in its effects on employees.
Proportion of minority employees that hold such occupations may or may not be significant according to precedent. See Valtierra, 91 S.Ct. 1331; in determining intent to discriminate; since the statute affects all white workers in the classification; as well as nonresidents and residents; impartially in its application.
If the court finds that the statute has discriminatory effect or intent, it may hold the ordinance unconstitutional under strict judicial scrutiny. By applying only a heightened or rationally-related test, the court could find that the statute is reasonably related to its ends in public safety; and valid.
The Supreme Court is likely to consider state policy objectives and the autonomy of the state to regulate itself when it makes a determination on whether this municipal ordinance violates either the commerce clause or the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
If the burden on interstate commerce is slight and the benefit to the community great, the court may find the ordinance within the bounds proscribed by the Hughes test. (see Hughes v. Oklahoma, 441 U.S. 1322 (1977). However, the reverse must also be considered.
If the statute does not discriminate in intent or effect; the court will not find cause to invalidate the ordinance under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, should the court determine that alternative means exist for achieving reduced crime in Beachport that do not place a burden on interstate commerce; it may find discriminatory intent, and rule the statute unconstitutional.