The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals heard two arguments in Indiana cases Oct. 20, one about how the state’s Medicaid money goes to Planned Parenthood and a second suit involving a man who claims he was discriminated against by being referred to the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program when applying to take the Indiana bar exam.
In the case of Planned Parenthood of Indiana v. Indiana, No. 11-2464, the state is asking the appellate court to reverse a decision earlier this year by Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in the Southern District of Indiana granting an injunction against the state defunding Planned Parenthood.
Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, argued that the state can't selectively choose which organizations can provide medical services.
"Our argument is that Medicaid is quite clear. You can regulate providers based on fraud, competence and what have you, but what the state has said is we can regulate for all these other reasons," he said. "This is the reason we are choosing to regulate now, and that violates a specific provision of the Medicaid act, and that is freedom of choice."
Indiana Solicitor General Tom Fisher stressed that the state has a duty to taxpayers to ensure the Legislature's wishes are honored.
"Our Legislature decided that to preserve the integrity of our taxpayer dollars in Medicaid, it did not want facilities that perform abortions to receive Medicaid dollars," he said. "In that circumstance, those taxpayer dollars effectively subsidize the abortion. That's why they passed this law, and that's why we're here defending it."
Judge Diane Sykes hinted at her thoughts on the case during her questioning.
"The fact that Planned Parenthood performs abortions doesn't have anything to do with the quality of the medical process," she said. "It's not akin to fraud. . . . The problem I have with the state's interpretation of the phrase 'qualified' is that it's infinitely elastic. It can mean anything the state wants it to mean."
The court panel took the case under advisement after the 45 minutes of arguments, before turning to other cases that included another Hoosier lawsuit.
In Bryan Brown v. Dr. Elizabeth Bowman, Terry Harrel, et al., No. 11-2164, from the Northern District of Indiana, the three-judge appellate panel analyzed the case of an Allen County man who’s suing the state because he was denied the chance to take the bar exam here after an evaluation by the JLAP that screened him out. Brown alleges it was because of his religious beliefs.
In March, Judge Theresa Springmann dismissed Brown’s case and found that precedent prevents her as a federal judge from addressing what was a state-court action prohibiting his admission. She relied on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine that involves two rulings from the Supreme Court of the United States in 1923 and 1983, which together hold District courts lack jurisdiction over lawsuits from state-court losers and that any jurisdiction remains solely with the nation’s highest court. In Brown’s case, the SCOTUS has already denied his petition for writ of certiorari.
Now, Brown is asking the 7th Circuit to overturn Springmann’s ruling and find the Rooker-Feldman doctrine doesn’t apply to his case. Brown raises questions about the scope of the doctrine and the reach of expert witness immunity, based on his contentions that defendants in this case weren’t properly sworn in under oath and therefore are prevented from being dubbed “witnesses” as required by the state.
The state’s attorney told the panel that Brown was given full due process when the Indiana Supreme Court reviewed his bar application and denied it and the issue cannot now be reviewed because these claims were already heard in the judicial process at the state level.
Brown represented himself before the 7th Circuit, asking the panel to overturn the ruling and adopt the rationale spelled out in a past dissent by Justice John Paul Stevens calling for a scaling back of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
The judges asked few questions during the 15-minute argument, and both sides were mostly able to spell out the arguments they’d made in their previously filed briefs.
“This is built on the idea that I’d seen an evil eye and uneven hand in the way I was processed,” Brown said. “I was treated in a way in which shouldn’t be done in America.”