Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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Plaintiff was taken hostage by a fleeing felon in rural Georgia. At the felon’s behest Plaintiff drove the truck toward seven officers gathered at the scene and showed no signs of stopping. As the logging truck struck the police vehicles lining the dirt road, several of the officers opened fire on the cab of the truck, even though they allegedly knew Plaintiff -- an innocent hostage -- was being forced to drive.   Plaintiff survived but was shot in his hand, his fingers, his hip, and his shoulder. He sued both Georgia State Patrol Lieutenants in their individual capacities (collectively, “Defendants”) for violating his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights. The Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment because their actions were reasonable and, even if they were not, they did not violate any clearly established law.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the fleeing felon put Plaintiff, Defendants, and the public in grave and imminent danger. Police officers like Defendants may use deadly force to dispel a threat (and, here, an imminent one) of serious physical harm or death or to prevent the escape of a very dangerous suspect who threatens that harm. Defendants made the difficult, but altogether reasonable, a decision that the fleeing felon and the logging truck had to be stopped -- and, tragically, that meant stopping Plaintiff, too. View "Paul Donald Davis, et al. v. Paul Waller, et al." on Justia Law

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Dunn was convicted in Indiana state court for the Torres murder. The case against Dunn was based largely on the testimony of two pathologists. In a state court post-conviction proceeding, Dunn argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to consult with any forensic pathologist. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the post-conviction court’s denial of relief.The Seventh Circuit affirmed a conditional writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254 based on ineffective assistance of trial counsel. At a state court post-conviction hearing, a board-certified forensic pathologist, Dr. Sozio, testified that the autopsy was substandard, missed a great deal, and that Torres’s injuries were more consistent with a fall than with being bludgeoned by a blunt object. If the defense had presented Sozio's testimony, the jury would have been presented with conflicting expert testimony regarding whether the fall alone caused the injuries. The state conceded that blood evidence effectively ruled out the use of a bat; no other weapon was found. Two eyewitnesses testified consistently that Torres was not beaten after his fall. Sozio's testimony was critical in this case to create reasonable doubt because it countered the state's scientific evidence and gave the jury reason to doubt that Torres was beaten. Dunn demonstrated prejudice under Strickland. View "Dunn v. Neal" on Justia Law

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Defendant Andrew Gregor, a naturalized citizen from Australia, pleaded guilty to a felony sex offense that was later reduced to a misdemeanor and dismissed after early termination of probation. After he was informed he was not able to sponsor his father for a family visa due to this conviction, defendant filed a motion pursuant to Penal Code section 1473.7 and sought to withdraw his plea claiming he was unable to meaningfully understand, defend against, or knowingly accept the adverse immigration consequences of his conviction. The trial court denied the motion; defendant appealed. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Gregor" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Supreme Court granted the Office of Public Advocacy’s (OPA) petition for review of whether counsel provided through Alaska Legal Service Corporation’s (ALSC) pro bono program was counsel “provided by a public agency” within the meaning of Flores v. Flores, 598 P.2d 890 (Alaska 1979) and OPA’s enabling statute. The Supreme Court concluded such counsel was indeed “provided by a public agency” and affirmed the superior court’s order appointing OPA to represent an indigent parent in a child custody case. View "Office of Public Advocacy v. Berezkin f/n/a Smith et al." on Justia Law

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The Alaska Legislature passed a bill in 2018 that appropriated money for public education spending for both FY2019, and FY2020. The second appropriation had a 2019 effective date. Governor Mike Dunleavy took office in December 2018, and disputed the constitutionality of the second year’s appropriation — and the general practice known as forward funding — asserting that it violated the annual appropriations model established by the Alaska Constitution. The Alaska Legislative Council, acting on behalf of the legislature, sued the governor, seeking a declaratory judgment that the governor violated his constitutional duties by failing to execute the appropriations and an injunction requiring him to do so. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the superior court decided that the appropriations were consistent with the legislature’s duty to fund public education, that they did not violate any specific constitutional provision, and that the governor’s refusal to disburse funds pursuant to the appropriations violated his duty to faithfully execute the laws. The court awarded attorney’s fees to the Legislative Council and the advocacy group as prevailing parties. The governor appeals the court’s grant of summary judgment and the award of attorney’s fees to the advocacy group. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court erred in its holding, and because neither the Legislative Council nor the advocacy group was prevailing party, the superior court’s attorney’s fees awards were vacated. View "Dunleavy, et al. v. Alaska Legislative Council, et al." on Justia Law

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The District of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) regulates childcare facilities, including by setting minimum qualifications for their workers. OSSE issued a rule requiring many childcare workers to obtain an associate’s degree or its equivalent in a field related to early childhood education. Two childcare workers and a parent filed a lawsuit to challenge the new college requirements. They allege violations of their substantive due process and equal protection rights, as well as of the nondelegation doctrine.On remand, the district court dismissed, this time on the merits. In rejecting Plaintiffs’ substantive due process and equal protection claims, the court concluded that the college requirements are rational, including in the distinctions they draw between different classes of daycare workers. And in rejecting Plaintiffs’ nondelegation doctrine claim, the court held that the statute granting regulatory authority to OSSE bears an intelligible principle to guide the agency’s work.The DC Circuit affirmed. The court explained that under rational-basis review, the policy choices of the political branches are “not subject to courtroom fact-finding and may be based on rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data. And here, as Plaintiffs acknowledge in their complaint, OSSE issued its regulations in part based on a report from the National Academies recommending a bachelor’s degree requirement for all educators of children ages zero to eight. Thus, the court found that a conceivably rational justification for the college requirements is readily apparent, and, in this context, that is all due process requires. View "Altagracia Sanchez v. Office of the State Superintendent of Education" on Justia Law

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In implementing an Omnibus Amendment that establishes industry-funded monitoring programs in New England fishery management plans, the National Marine Fisheries Service (Service) promulgated a rule that required industry to fund at-sea monitoring programs. A group of commercial herring fishing companies contend that the statute does not specify that industry may be required to bear such costs and that the process by which the Service approved the Omnibus Amendment and promulgated the Final Rule was improper.On appeal, Appellants’ challenge to the Final Rule presents the question how clearly Congress must state an agency’s authority to adopt a course of action. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Service based on its reasonable interpretation of its authority and its adoption of the Amendment and the Rule through a process that afforded the requisite notice and opportunity to comment. The court explained that when an agency establishes regulatory requirements, regulated parties generally bear the costs of complying with them.Here, the Act’s national standards for fishery management plans direct the Service to “minimize costs” of conservation and management measures and to minimize adverse economic impacts” of such measures on fishing communities. Those statutory admonitions to reduce costs seem to presume that the Service may impose some costs, as “minimize” does not mean eliminate entirely. View "Loper Bright Enterprises, Inc v. Gina Raimondo" on Justia Law