Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2020, California and Santa Clara County issued public health orders intended to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, including orders restricting indoor gatherings and requiring face coverings, social distancing, and submission of a social distancing protocol by businesses, including churches. Calvary Chapel failed to comply with those orders. On November 2, 2020, the trial court issued a temporary restraining order, followed by a November 24 modified TRO, and a preliminary injunction that enjoined Calvary from holding indoor gatherings that did not comply with the restrictions on indoor gatherings and requirements that participants wear face coverings and social distance. Calvary was also enjoined from operating without submitting a social distancing protocol. Calvary violated the orders, failing to comply with any of the public health orders.The government sought an order of contempt, which the trial court issued on December 17, 2020, ordering Calvary and its pastors to pay monetary sanctions (Code of Civil Procedure sections 177.51 and 1218(a)). The court of appeal annulled the contempt orders and reversed the sanctions. The temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions are facially unconstitutional under the recent guidance of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion in the context of public health orders that impact religious practice. View "People v. Calvary Chapel San Jose" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court affirming the findings of the Commission on State Mandates rejecting the claims brought by Plaintiffs, several community college districts seeking reimbursement for regulations they must satisfy to avoid the possibility of having their state aid withheld, holding that the court of appeals erred.Plaintiffs filed a claim arguing that reimbursement was required under Cal. Const. art. XIII B because (1) the regulations imposed a legal duty to satisfy the conditions described (legal compulsion), or (2) the regulations compelled compliance as a practical matter (practical compulsion). The Commission rejected the claims, and the trial court affirmed. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the court of appeal chose not to address whether the districts established practical compulsion, remand was required to allow the court to evaluate that issue. View "Coast Community College District v. Commission on State Mandates" on Justia Law

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After the public health department for the City of Madison and Dane County, Wisconsin issued a COVID-19 mask mandate, an owner of Helbachs Café posted a sign: “Mask Free Zone. Please remove mask before entering” and then took it down about 30 minutes later. Over the next few days, Madison’s public health officials cited Helbachs several times for violating its COVID-19 orders and set a hearing to revoke Helbachs’ food and drink license for cumulative violations. The dispute caught the public’s attention and the landlord decided not to renew Helbachs’ lease.Helbachs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The local citations were later dismissed, and the revocation hearing was not pursued. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Helbachs has standing to bring this First Amendment retaliation claim because the record shows that Helbachs suffered injury-in-fact beyond the revoked citations and the threatened, but aborted, hearing. However, Helbachs’ First Amendment claim fails under “Monell” because the defendants’ actions were not part of a larger pattern or practice of retaliation. View "Helbachs Cafe LLC v. City of Madison, Wisconsin" on Justia Law

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Defendant William Gladney was convicted in 2007 on three criminal counts: violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act; conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of cocaine base; and using, carrying, or possessing a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime. Gladney was sentenced to concurrent life sentences on the RICO and drug conspiracy convictions, followed by a ten-year consecutive sentence on the firearms conviction. In 2020, Gladney filed a motion to reduce his sentence in light of changes that Congress implemented to the sentencing scheme for offenses involving cocaine base. Gladney also sought funds to hire an investigator to gather evidence to support his motion for reduction of sentence. The district court denied without prejudice Gladney’s request for funds. It then denied Gladney’s motion for reduction of sentence. Gladney appealed those rulings, arguing that the district court erred in finding him ineligible for a reduction of sentence under the First Step Act. The Tenth Circuit concluded Gladney’s arguments were largely foreclosed by its decision in United States v. Mannie, 971 F.3d 1145 (10th Cir. 2020). Because of Mannie, any reduction the district court could have made to the sentence on Gladney's covered offense under the First Step Act "would not actually reduce the length of [Gladney's] incarceration. The Tenth Circuit therefore concluded the district court could not redress Gladney's injury, and in turn, Gladney's motion for reduction of sentence under the First Step act "does not present a live controversy." The Court thus dismissed Gladney's appeal for lack of standing. View "United States v. Gladney" on Justia Law

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In 2020, Kansas City began restricting participation in its Minority Business Enterprises and Women’s Business Enterprises Program to those entities whose owners satisfied a personal net worth limitation. Mark One Electric Co., a woman-owned business whose owner’s personal net worth exceeds the limit, appeals the dismissal of its lawsuit challenging the Kansas City Program as unconstitutional because of the personal net worth limitation.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that to survive strict scrutiny, the government must first articulate a legislative goal that is properly considered a compelling government interest, such as stopping the perpetuation of racial discrimination and remediating the effects of past discrimination in government contracting. Here, Mark One does not dispute that the City has a compelling interest in remedying the effects of race and gender discrimination on City contract opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses. And Mark One has conceded the 2016 Disparity Study provides a strong basis in evidence for the MBE/WBE Program to further that interest.The City’s program must be narrowly tailored, which requires that “the means chosen to accomplish the government’s asserted purpose are specifically and narrowly framed to accomplish that purpose. Mark One claims that its exclusion from the Program despite its status as a woman-owned business shows that the Program is unlawful Indeed, Mark One has declared that it has suffered past discrimination, as the Program requires for certification. But the City does not have a constitutional obligation to make its Program as broad as may be legally permissible, so long as it directs its resources in a rational manner not motivated by a discriminatory purpose. View "Mark One Electric Company v. City of Kansas City, Missouri" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of kidnapping resulting in death and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. On appeal, Defendant challenges several rulings of the district court* and the sufficiency of the evidence in support of the convictions.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Defendant’s first argument on appeal is that the district court erred by denying his motion to suppress statements from the interviews on November 8 and 21, 2018. He contends that investigators subjected him to custodial interrogations without advising him of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona. The court concluded that there was no custodial interrogation of Defendant on November 8. Defendant responded to the FBI agent’s request for a conversation and agreed to let the agent come to his house for the meeting. The agent did not display a weapon or restrain Defendant in any way. The agent was dressed in plain clothes and allowed Defendant’s wife to sit nearby for the interview. Further, the court held that there is no indication that Defendant is particularly susceptible to undue influence: he is an adult of average intelligence who has earned an associate’s degree and is familiar with the protections afforded by the legal system due to an extensive criminal history.Moreover, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that the probative value of the evidence was not substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice. Further, the court concluded that there was no error in declining to instruct the jury that the government must prove that Defendant knew in advance that death would result from the kidnapping. View "United States v. Ramon Simpson" on Justia Law

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Defendant entered a conditional guilty plea to a charge of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. She reserved her right to appeal an order of the district court denying her motion to suppress evidence that police seized after conducting a protective sweep of a hotel room in which she was staying. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(a)(2).The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the officers permissibly entered and searched the hotel room. On appeal, Defendant argues that the district court erred in denying the motion to suppress because the police lacked specific and articulable facts suggesting that a person posing a danger to the officers was located inside the hotel room. She maintains that the officers violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment by entering the hotel room without a warrant and that all evidence seized as a result of the entry should be suppressed.The court explained that a protective sweep of the hotel room was justified here as an inspection of spaces immediately adjoining the place of arrest from which an attack could be immediately launched. It is undisputed that officers were positioned in the doorway to effect the arrest, and that police crossed the threshold into the room under the authority of the warrant. Accordingly, the court held that the officers observed evidence of unlawful drug activity in plain view while conducting the protective sweep did not violate Defendant’s rights under the Fourth Amendment. View "United States v. Angela Garges" on Justia Law

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The Idaho Supreme Court held a hearing on August 3, 2022 to address specific procedural matters. The only issues in dispute were whether the Court should stay the enforcement of Idaho Code section 18-622(2) (“Total Abortion Ban”) and whether it should continue to stay the enforcement of Senate Bill 1309 (“Civil Liability Law”). The Court denied Petitioners’ request to stay the enforcement of Idaho Code section 18-622 in Docket No. 49817-2022; and vacated the stay of the enforcement of Senate Bill 1309 entered by the Court on April 8, 2022 in Docket No. 49615-2022. View "Planned Parenthood v. Idaho" on Justia Law

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In exchange for Defendant’s guilty plea on the superseding indictment’s principal drug-dealing charge (“Count 1”), the Government dismissed all other charges. The parties stipulated to a recommended prison sentence of 240 months. The district court followed the parties’ sentencing recommendation and dismissed all remaining counts in the superseding indictment “on the motion of the United States. Some months later, the Government discovered the procedural snag at the heart of this case: the superseding indictment to which Defendant pleaded guilty had been returned by a grand jury whose term had expired. At a plea hearing in which Defendant indicated satisfaction with his trial counsel’s performance and familiarity with the “grand jury mess-up[]” that had occurred in his initial case, Defendant pleaded guilty in accordance with the new plea agreement. The district court then imposed the 144-month sentence the parties agreed to and noted for the record the key terms of the provision quoted above.   Without conducting a hearing, the district court accepted a magistrate’s recommendation that Defendant’s Section 2255 motion be denied. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that the expired grand jury’s untimely superseding indictment in Defendant’s first criminal case was null and void when jeopardy would have otherwise attached at Defendant’s jury trial and, accordingly, could not have placed Defendant in actual legal jeopardy within the meaning of the Double Jeopardy Clause. Because the failure of Defendant’s trial counsel to advise Defendant of a meritless double jeopardy argument was neither deficient nor prejudicial, the district court was correct to deny Defendant’s habeas corpus petition. View "USA v. Slape" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff regularly reports on local crime, missing persons, community events, traffic, and local government. Plaintiff published a story about a man who committed suicide and identified the man by name and revealed that he was an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol. Two arrest warrants were issued for Plaintiff for violating Texas Penal Code Section 39.06(c). According to Plaintiff, local officials have never brought a prosecution under Section 39.06(c) in the nearly three-decade history of that provision.Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of her claims against the officials under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. She also appeals the dismissal of her municipal liability claims against the City of Laredo, but not her claims against Webb County. The Fifth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff’s First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments claims, as well as her civil conspiracy claims. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment dismissing Plaintiff’s municipal liability claims against the City of Laredo. The court explained that it has no difficulty observing that journalists commonly ask for nonpublic information from public officials, and that Plaintiff was therefore entitled to make that same reasonable inference. Yet Defendants chose to arrest Plaintiff for violating Section 39.06(c). The court accordingly concluded that Plaintiff has sufficiently pled the existence of similarly situated journalists who were not arrested for violating Section 39.06(c). View "Villarreal v. City of Laredo" on Justia Law