746 F.2d 1579 (D.C. Cir. 1984), 82-2304, Dronenburg v. Zech

Docket Nº:82-2304.
Citation:746 F.2d 1579
Party Name:James L. DRONENBURG, Appellant, v. Vice Admiral Lando ZECH, Chief of Naval Personnel, et al.
Case Date:November 15, 1984
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Page 1579

746 F.2d 1579 (D.C. Cir. 1984)

James L. DRONENBURG, Appellant,


Vice Admiral Lando ZECH, Chief of Naval Personnel, et al.

No. 82-2304.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

November 15, 1984

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (Civil Action No. 81-00933), Oliver Gasch, Judge.

Stephen V. Bomse, Leonard Graff and Calvin Steinmetz, Washington, D.C., were on the suggestion for rehearing en banc filed by appellant.

Charles Lister and Margaret R. Alexander, Washington, D.C., were on the supporting petition for amicus curiae the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area.

Abby R. Rubenfeld, Evan Wolfson, Sarah Wunsch and Anne E. Simon, New York City, were on the joint brief of amicus curiae LAMBDA Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., et al., in support of the suggestion for rehearing en banc.



On Appellant's Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc


The Suggestion for Rehearing en banc of Appellant, and the briefs amici curiae in support thereof, have been circulated to the full Court and a majority of the judges in regular active service have not voted in favor thereof. On consideration of the foregoing, it is

ORDERED, by the Court, en banc, that the aforesaid Suggestion for rehearing en banc is denied.

Opinion dissenting from denial of suggestion to hear case en banc filed by Chief Judge SPOTTSWOOD W. ROBINSON, III, and Circuit Judges WALD, MIKVA and HARRY T. EDWARDS.

Statements of Circuit Judges GINSBURG and STARR are attached. Also attached is a statement of Circuit Judge BORK, joined by Circuit Judge SCALIA.

Page 1580

SPOTTSWOOD W. ROBINSON, III, Chief Judge; WALD, MIKVA and HARRY T. EDWARDS, Circuit Judges, dissenting from denial of suggestion to hear case en banc:

We would vote to vacate the decision of the panel and to rehear the matter before the court en banc. This is a case of extreme importance in both a practical and a jurisprudential sense. For reasons discussed below, we do not think that Doe v. Commonwealth's Attorney, 425 U.S. 901, 96 S.Ct. 1489, 47 L.Ed.2d 751 (1976), aff'g mem. 403 F.Supp. 1199 (E.D.Va.1975), is controlling precedent here. Moreover, we are deeply troubled by the use of the panel's decision to air a revisionist view of constitutional jurisprudence.

The panel's extravagant exegesis on the constitutional right of privacy was wholly unnecessary to decide the case before the court. The ratio decidendi of the panel decision is fairly well stated in the last paragraph of the opinion. Jurists are free to state their personal views in a variety of forums, but the opinions of this court are not proper occasions to throw down gauntlets to the Supreme Court.

We find particularly inappropriate the panel's attempt to wipe away selected Supreme Court decisions in the name of judicial restraint. Regardless whether it is the proper role of lower federal courts to "create new constitutional rights," Dronenburg v. Zech, 741 F.2d 1388, at 1396 (D.C.Cir.1984), surely it is not their function to conduct a general spring cleaning of constitutional law. Judicial restraint begins at home.

We object most strongly, however, not to what the panel opinion does, but to what it fails to do. No matter what else the opinions of an intermediate court may properly include, certainly they must still apply federal law as articulated by the Supreme Court, and they must apply it in good faith. The decisions of that Court make clear that the constitutional right of privacy, whatever its genesis, is by now firmly established. An intermediate judge may regret its presence, but he or she must apply it diligently. The panel opinion simply does not do so. Instead of conscientiously attempting to discern the principles underlying the Supreme Court's privacy decisions, the panel has in effect thrown up their hands and decided to confine those decisions to their facts. Such an approach to "interpretation" is as clear an abdication of judicial responsibility as would be a decision upholding all privacy claims the Supreme Court had not expressly rejected.

We find completely unconvincing the suggestion that Doe v. Commonwealth's Attorney controls this case. In Doe, the Supreme Court affirmed without opinion a three-judge district court's dismissal of a pre-enforcement constitutional challenge to a state criminal statute. Dronenburg, by contrast, challenges the constitutionality of his discharge pursuant to a military regulation not expressly authorized by statute. To hold Dronenburg's claims hostage to a one-word summary affirmance disregards the well-established principle that such a disposition by the Supreme Court decides the issue between the parties on the narrowest possible grounds. See Mandel v. Bradley, 432 U.S. 173, 176-77, 97 S.Ct. 2238, 2240-41, 53 L.Ed.2d 199 (1977) (per curiam); Fusari v. Steinberg, 419 U.S. 379, 391-92, 95 S.Ct. 533, 540-41, 42 L.Ed.2d 521 (1975) (Burger, C.J., concurring). Moreover, the Court has clearly indicated that the Doe issue remains open. See Carey v. Population Services International, 431 U.S. 678, 688 n. 5, 694 n. 17, 97 S.Ct. 2010, 2018 n. 5, 2021 n. 17, 52 L.Ed.2d 675 (1977) ("[T]he Court has not definitively answered the...

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