March 25, 2019 –The Public Interest Law Center, along with four other affiliates of the nationwide network of Lawyers’ Committees for Civil Rights, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in support of Pennsylvania and New Jersey in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and State of New Jersey v. Donald J. Trump et al. The Law Center and other amici were represented by attorneys from Ballard Spahr LLP. The Law Center was joined by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Public Counsel.
The case challenges rules issued by federal agencies that permit employers to exclude contraception from employee health benefits on religious grounds. On January 14, Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Wendy Beetlestone issued a preliminary nationwide injunction barring the implementation of these rules. In their appeal, the Trump Administration argued that the District Court should not have the authority to issue an injunction that applies to the entire United States. In their amicus brief, the Law Center and its partners demonstrate that nationwide injunctions have a long history in American courts and have served as an invaluable tool for protecting the civil rights of vulnerable communities that lack adequate access to justice.
“When government acts wrongfully, the impact can be felt throughout the community, the state, or the country.”
In their appeal, the federal agencies cite a concurrence by Justice Clarence Thomas in Trump v. Hawaii, in which he questioned whether national injunctions are consistent with historical practice. The Law Center’s brief argues that broad injunctions applying to parties not before the court were familiar to both English and American Courts around the time of American independence.
The brief further argues that nationwide injunctions are essential tools to enforce protections of the rights of vulnerable communities, citing examples from the Civil Rights Era, when plaintiffs often asked courts to apply their equitable authority broadly to end unconstitutional discrimination. For instance, in Baily v. Patterson (1963), residents of Jackson, Mississippi challenged racial segregation in public accommodations and transportation, and the Fifth Circuit granted an injunction against the City and transportation companies, writing that “the very nature of the rights appellants seek to vindicate requires that the decree run to the benefit not only of appellants but also for all person similarly situated.”
“When government acts wrongfully, the impact can be felt throughout the community, the state, or the country,” the brief states. “Providing effective remedies to cure serious, wide-reaching wrongs is not only a well settled use of the judicial power, it also may be the only remedy available to courts to redress adequately the threat of immediate, irreparable harm.”