Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The Texas State Preservation Board is charged with preserving and maintaining the Texas Capitol and its ground. Inder the 1987 Capitol Exhibit Rule, members of the public could submit an exhibit for display in the Capitol, provided the submission met certain undemanding requirements and had the endorsement of a qualifying state official.In 2016, Texas Governor Greg Abbott directed the Preservation Board to remove an exhibit that was submitted by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Ultimately, the Board repealed the Capitol Exhibit Rule and the Foundation. Nevertheless, the district court held that the Board's exclusion of the Foundation’s exhibit was unlawful, and ordered them to display the exhibit in the Texas Capitol. The Board appealed.On appeal, the Fifth Circuit reversed, finding that the Board closed what was a limited public forum and that the Board's actions mooted the Foundation's claim to injunctive relief. However, the court also noted that its holding does not preclude the Foundation from showing that it is entitled to attorney fees as the prevailing party under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988, given that the Board repealed the Capitol Exhibit Rule in apparent response to the Foundation’s lawsuit. View "Freedom From Religion Fdn v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing this suit brought by Plaintiff in the District of Puerto Rico against the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico (the FOMB) on jurisdictional grounds pursuant to Article III of the United States Constitution, holding that there was no error.Plaintiff brought this suit in his official capacity as both a member and the minority leader of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, alleging that the FOMB violated the Territories Clause of the federal Constitution by nullifying a law that established the Commonwealth's budget and replacing it with the FOMB's own budget. The district court dismissed the claims for lack of jurisdiction. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff lacked Article III standing to bring his claims. View "Hernandez-Montanez v. Financial Oversight & Management Bd. for P.R." on Justia Law

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Auto sears can be installed into semi-automatic guns to make them fully automatic. The National Firearms Act defines a machine gun as any gun that can shoot more than one shot “by a single function of the trigger,” 26 U.S.C. 5845(b). ATF decided in 1981 to define auto sears as machine guns, even if not installed or owned in conjunction with a compatible rifle. Ruling 81-4 brought auto sears under the Act’s regulatory scheme, which demands that all machine guns be registered. In 1986 the Gun Control Act was amended to make it unlawful for “any person to transfer or possess a machine gun,” 18 U.S.C. 922(o), effectively freezing the number of legal machine guns. Roe purchased his auto sear in 1979 and never registered it.In 2020 Roe sought to force the ATF either to exempt his auto sear from the registration requirements or to permit him to register it. Roe argued that under Ruling 81-4 auto sears that were already manufactured or possessed were exempted permanently from the Firearms Act's requirements. The ATF argued that the Ruling only refers to a retroactive exemption for taxes related to pre-1981 auto sears, that any now-unregistered auto sear is contraband, and that the 1986 machine gun ban means that there is no way to register an auto sear. The district court dismissed Roe’s complaint, reasoning that it lacked authority to issue the requested injunction, and noting that the constitutionality of the statutes had already been upheld. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the claim concerning the Ruling was untimely. Roe’s misinterpretation of Ruling 81-4 and his failure to recall that he owned the auto sear do not support relief. View "Roe v. Dettelbach" on Justia Law

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Appellant V.R. is the mother of now 11-year-old N.R. Mother appealed the juvenile court’s order terminating her parental rights as to N.R. Mother argued that the order is unsupported by clear and convincing evidence of parental unfitness or child detriment. Specifically, she argued that termination cannot be predicated on earlier, unchallenged findings of parental unfitness or child detriment as to N.R. because, after N.R. and her younger half-sister R.L. were removed from mother’s custody, the juvenile court returned R.L. to mother. According to mother, R.L.’s return to mother “rebutted” the earlier findings as a matter of law. If these earlier findings are disregarded, mother continues, no substantial evidence otherwise supports termination of her parental rights as to N.R.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the juvenile court’s order. The court explained that the record reflects manifest differences between N.R.’s and R.L.’s needs and mother’s ability to parent each child. Throughout the proceedings, the juvenile court carefully considered this evidence and the respective risks the children faced in mother’s care. The court, therefore, rejected mother’s argument that R.L.’s return to mother rebutted or otherwise limited the vitality of prior findings of mother’s unfitness to parent N.R. or the detriment to N.R. of remaining in, or being returned to, mother’s custody. Notwithstanding its order returning R.L. to mother’s custody, due process permitted the juvenile court to rely on such findings at the section 366.26 hearing. View "In re N.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of felony strangulation of a household member and misdemeanor false imprisonment, holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion in the proceedings below.On appeal, the Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not err by concluding that the affidavit in support of the search warrant to search Defendant's cellular phones, his place of employment, his work truck, and his person for certain documents, including journals, established probable cause to search and seize Defendant's journals and in thus denying Defendant's motion to suppress; and (2) did not abuse its discretion at sentencing by considering conduct for which Defendant was acquitted. View "Kreusel v. State" on Justia Law

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Petitioner K.C. Myers challenged the trial court’s determination that his exclusion from the earned-time program for a disqualifying offense did not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Petitioner was accused of committing burglary on August 17, 2019, almost two months after the original earned-time bill, 2019, No. 56, §§ 1-9, was signed into law. He was arraigned in March 2020 and pled no contest on May 2020, receiving a two-to-five-year prison sentence. Petitioner was serving a suspended sentence for lewd and lascivious conduct with a child when he received the burglary sentence. Petitioner, like all others in prison meeting the standards set forth in 2019, No. 148 (Adj. Sess.), § 14, became eligible for earned time starting on January 1, 2021. The earned-time program was again amended by 2021, No. 12, § 2, which became effective on April 26, 2021. The central question in this appeal was whether the effective date of the earned-time program or the enactment date of the statute mandating its creation controlled for the purposes of an ex-post-facto analysis. Because the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the program’s effective date controlled, and, therefore, petitioner’s disqualification from the program did not offend the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on ex-post- facto laws, judgment was affirmed. View "Myers v. Baker, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the district court's ruling granting Defendant's motion to suppress statements she made during a custodial interview, holding that some deception by law enforcement in this case did not exceed what the legal system tolerates.Defendant's husband died of strangulation after being zip-tied in a chair in his residence. Defendant claimed that her husband had tied himself up. During an interview at the police station, police officers told Defendant falsely that doctors were still working to save her husband's life. An hour and half into the interview the officers corrected their deception. The officers also made various reassurances and suggestions to the woman. The trial court granted Defendant's motion to suppress. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the officers' lie about whether her husband had been pronounced dead did not affect Defendant's essentially knowing and voluntary waiver of her Miranda rights; and (2) the officers' expressions of sympathy did not amount either to express or implied promises of leniency that would create a fair risk of a false confession. View "State v. Park" on Justia Law

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Marlon Howell was indicted by grand jury for the sale of a controlled substance in 1998. The indictment charged Howell with one count of the sale of 6.8 grams of marijuana, a Schedule 1 controlled substance. At the time of Howell’s charging, Mississippi Code Section 41-29-139(b)(3) (Rev. 1993) provided for a penalty of three years’ imprisonment and/or a fine up to $3,000 for the sale of one ounce or less of marijuana. In 1999, the State and Howell agreed to reduce Howell’s felony charge from the sale of a controlled substance to possession of a controlled substance. The parties presented an agreed order reducing Howell’s felony charge to possession. On the same day, Howell pled guilty to the reduced felony charge of possession of a controlled substance. Howell was thereafter sentenced to three years in custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections with one year of house arrest and the remaining two years of post-release supervision in addition to $200 in restitution. In 2016, Howell moved to vacate the sentence for felony possession, arguing the sentence he received was illegal. The trial court treated Howell’s motion as a post-conviction relief petition and found that Howell lacked standing under Mississippi’s post-conviction relief statutes because Howell had already completed his sentence for drug possession. Howell then appealed. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that “[o]n the narrow question presented, interpreting Mississippi Code Section 99-39-5(1), we hold that Howell has standing.” On remand, the trial court found that Howell’s post-conviction relief petition was time-barred. The court also found that the original sentence was not illegal and that Howell had benefitted from a more lenient sentence for the crime with which he was originally charged. Howell appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion for post-conviction relief. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Howell v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Four prisoners filed a declaratory judgment action challenging two of the execution methods set forth in South Carolina's death penalty statute: electrocution and firing squad. The prisoners contend the methods violate the South Carolina Constitution's article I, section 15 prohibition against cruel, corporal, or unusual punishment. The circuit court concluded electrocution and the firing squad were unconstitutional under state law, and the parties filed cross-appeals with the South Carolina Supreme Court. The primary appeal concerned the merits of the ruling, and the prisoners' cross-appeal challenged the partial denial of their pretrial discovery request for information on the availability of a third statutory method of execution, lethal injection. At this time, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's discovery ruling (which was the subject of the cross-appeal), and remanded the discovery issue to the circuit court for further proceedings to be completed in accordance with time limits set forth in this opinion. The Supreme Court held the remainder of the appeal in abeyance pending the circuit court's resolution of the discovery issue. View "Owens, et al. v. Stirling, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs SkyHop Global, LLC, SkyHop Technologies, Inc. (collectively, “SkyHop”) and Defendant company owner and his company Indyzen, Inc. (collectively, “Indyzen”) have developed and deployed digital software aimed at transporting crew members to and from airports across the country. SkyHop has about eighty contracts with fifteen airlines, including major carriers like Delta, American, and United. SkyHop and Indyzen dispute who owns the digital software. And beyond that, they disagree on where their dispute should be decided. Indyzen has filed an arbitration action in California (where it is based), alleging various forms of breach of contract and other promises. Meanwhile, SkyHop has filed a federal lawsuit in Florida (where it is based), alleging that Indyzen violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) and the Florida Computer Abuse and Data Recovery Act (“CADRA”). In response, Indyzen sought to dismiss this action for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court entered an order dismissing SkyHop’s complaint.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s order. The court reasoned that the allegations in SkyHop’s complaint suggest that SkyHop is the rightful owner of the digital software. And because Indyzen has refused to relinquish possession of the digital software without additional payment, SkyHop’s complaint states a cause of action under the CFAA. The complaint therefore satisfies the Florida long-arm statute. And it also meets the requirements of the Due Process Clause because the emails that Indyzen sent into Florida triggered SkyHop’s claims. View "SkyHop Technologies, Inc., et al. v. Praveen Narra, et al." on Justia Law