LOOSE CANNON: Report In Opposition To The Confirmation Of Janice Rogers Brown To The United States Court Of Appeals For The DC Circuit

Enforcing State Constitutional Rights

Katzberg v. Regents of the University of California, 58 P.3d 339 (Cal. 2002) and Degrassi v. Cook, 58 P.3d 360 (Cal. 2002).

During our review of Justice Brown’s cases we analyzed two cases dealing with the question of how to compensate individuals whose rights under the California state constitution had been violated. These two cases were considered together and decided the same day. Both cases dealt with people who alleged that their individual rights under the state constitution had been violated by state or local government officials, and in each case the individual victims filed lawsuits asking for monetary compensation.

In the first case, Mr. Katzberg argued that his reputation had been damaged in violation of the due process and liberty guarantees of the state constitution when he was demoted amidst allegations of financial wrongdoing without the opportunity for a hearing at which he might have the opportunity to clear his name. In the second case, Ms. Degrassi alleged that her free speech rights under the state constitution had been violated when, after she was elected to the Glendora City Council, she was subjected to harassment and intimidation which prevented her from freely expressing her political views.

In each case a majority of the California Supreme Court set forth a searching analysis to be used to determine whether monetary damages should be available for state constitutional violations. The court began by asking whether or not the text or the legislative history of the relevant provision demonstrated any intent that damages be available to those who suffered a violation of their rights. The majority then went on to inquire whether or not there was any indication that damages were not intended to be available. If the there was no such indication, the Court determined, relying at least in part on U.S. Supreme Court precedent (Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971)), that a further analysis was warranted to determine whether damages would be appropriate in the specific case before them. After conducting this searching analysis, the Court determined in both cases that monetary damages were not available for violations of the specific provisions.

Justice Brown, joined by one other justice, wrote separately in Katzberg to express her adamant view that the court should not have considered any question beyond the question of whether or not the text, the legislative history or the drafters’ intent demonstrated any indication that damages were intended. In Degrassi, she both concurred and dissented but instead of providing an additional opinion she simply referenced her decision in Katzberg. Her main argument focused on her view that the California Constitution is an independent document with separate force and authority from the U.S. Constitution and that “[d]efaulting to the high court fundamentally disserves the independent force and effect of our Constitution. Rather than enrich the texture of our law, this reliance on federal precedent shortchanges future generations.” Katzberg, 58 P.3d 339 at 360. The vehemence of her opinion in this regard is interesting given that in an opinion in a separate case issued just 20 days before the decisions in Katzberg and Degrassi, in a case interpreting the identical provision of the California Constitution at issue in Degrassi, she wrote:

Generally, when we interpret a provision of the California Constitution that is similar to a provision of the federal Constitution, we will not depart from the United States Supreme Court’s construction of the similar federal provision unless we are given cogent reasons to do so.
Edelstein v. City and County of San Francisco, 56 P.3d 1029, 1031 (Cal. 2002).

Finally, Brown’s comments in the Katzberg and Degrassi cases about the proper role of the state supreme court in interpreting provisions of the state constitution provide interesting insight into her more general theory of constitutional analysis. She wrote:

Unlike the common law, however, constitutional interpretation is bound by text as well as by principles of construction and is decidedly not subject – whenever a majority of the court agrees – to judicial extension and innovation in the interest of public policy or national consensus or similar justification.
Katzberg, 58 P.3d 339 at 360 (emphasis in the original).
Brown’s dissent did not state whether or not she would apply these same principles to interpreting the United States Constitution. Still, her statement does raise concerns about how she would handle U.S. Supreme Court precedent in the numerous cases where the Court’s analysis has appropriately considered factors other than the text and legislative history of a particular provision.

Share this page: Facebook Twitter Digg SU Digg Delicious