Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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Appellants filed suit against Dorchester County, seeking compensation pursuant to the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment for the death of their bees. Appellants contend that the bees died after the County sprayed pesticide in an effort to kill mosquitos, and the bees' death amounted to a taking of appellants' private property.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the County's motion for summary judgment, holding that there was no taking because the loss of appellants' bees was only an incidental consequence of the County's action. The court noted that the death of appellants' bees is undoubtedly a tragedy, but the court cannot conclude that it was the foreseeable or probable result of the County's action when it is a clear outlier in terms of collateral damage arising out of the County's mosquito abatement effort. Therefore, because the death of the bees was neither intended nor foreseeable, the Takings Clause does not require compensation. View "Yawn v. Dorchester County" on Justia Law

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AFGE filed suit challenging two advisory opinions issued by the OSC, the agency tasked by Congress to advise on the way in which the Hatch Act's prohibitions in the federal workplace applied. The original advisory opinion was promulgated on November 27, 2018, and a clarifying opinion was promulgated three days later (jointly, "the Advisory Opinions"). Both opinions bore on conduct related to President Trump's reelection campaign. AFGE sought a declaration that the Advisory Opinions violated its members' rights under the First Amendment; an injunction against OSC's reliance on and enforcement of the Advisory Opinions; and a court order commanding their rescission. The district court dismissed the complaint on ripeness grounds.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action, concluding that AFGE's case is now moot and would otherwise be unripe for review. The court explained that OSC's post-election update of its guidance on impeachment and "the resistance" has removed AFGE's injury-in-fact and, therefore, mooted the case. Furthermore, the issues in this case are not fit for judicial decision and the mere issuance by OSC of a generally addressed advisory opinion falls short of what is required. Finally, the court noted that for it to rule this case justiciable would upend the Hatch Act enforcement scheme whose details Congress has so meticulously set out. View "American Federation of Government Employees v. Office of Special Counsel" on Justia Law

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Defendant Joseph Bruyette appealed an order compelling him to provide a DNA sample for inclusion in the Vermont DNA database. Defendant was convicted of one count of burglary and three counts of sexual assault in 1990. He has been continuously incarcerated in the custody of the Department of Corrections (DOC) since 1987. For most of this time, defendant has been held in facilities out of state. In 1998, the Vermont Legislature passed a law creating a state DNA database. Defendant’s convictions qualified as designated crimes under the law, so the statute required him to submit a DNA sample. He argued 20 V.S.A. 1933(b) excused him from providing a DNA sample because he has previously provided a sample. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s rejection of defendant’s position that the statute exempted him from providing a subsequent sample. View "Vermont v. Bruyette" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a petition for habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted by a jury in state court of first degree manslaughter. The court concluded that the admission of the autopsy report at petitioner's trial through a surrogate witness was an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent. See Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 40 (2004); Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305 (2009); and Bullcoming v. New Mexico, 564 U.S. 647 (2011). Furthermore, the unreasonably erroneous admission of the autopsy report was not harmless where the report was the strongest evidence in the State's case and was not cumulative of other inculpatory evidence connecting petitioner to the victim's death. View "Garlick v. Lee" on Justia Law

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In this original proceeding, the Supreme Court granted the petition for writ and assumed original jurisdiction over Petitioners' constitutional challenge and then held that Senate Bill 140 (SB 140 does not violate Mont. Const. art. VII, 8(2).SB 140 was passed by the 2021 Montana Legislature and signed into law by the Governor. The bill abolished Montana's Judicial Nomination Commission and the previous process to screen applicants for vacancies on the Supreme Court and the District Courts. Petitioners brought this proceeding challenging the constitutionality of SB 140. The Supreme Court held (1) Petitioners had standing to challenge the constitutionality of SB 140; (2) urgent or emergency factors justified an original proceeding in this Court; and (3) SB 140 does not violate Article VII, Section 8(2). View "Brown v. Gianforte" on Justia Law

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Curtis Valentine appealed his conviction of aggravated driving under the influence (DUI), claiming the circuit court erred by denying his motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) and by denying his proposed jury instruction defining “under the influence.” Finding no reversible error in the circuit court’s decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Valentine v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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The primary question this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court’s review was whether a defective waiver of a preliminary hearing deprived a circuit court of jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals accordingly considered defendant’s unpreserved challenge to his waiver, found the waiver defective, and reversed his conviction. The Supreme Court allowed the state’s petition for review to consider whether a defective waiver of a preliminary hearing was a jurisdictional defect. The Court held that Huffman v. Alexander, 251 P2d 87 (1952) stood for a more limited proposition than defendant perceived, and that the state constitutional provision on which he relied did not establish that a defective waiver of a preliminary hearing deprived a circuit court of subject matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court accordingly reversed the Court of Appeals decision and remanded this case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Oregon v. Keys" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Commission in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that the Commission discriminated against her in violation of Title VII. Plaintiff argues that her suspension, probation, and termination were discrimination based on race and national origin. The Commission stated that plaintiff's termination was due to failure to comply with requests to provide company passwords to agency programs and documents. The court concluded that plaintiff did not show evidence of pretext or that she could satisfy the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework before the district court or in her opening brief, and thus she cannot prove a circumstantial case of discrimination. View "Towery v. Mississippi County Arkansas Economic Opportunity Commission, Inc." on Justia Law

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Christopher Johnson was convicted of child sex crimes. He challenged a condition of community custody as unconstitutionally overbroad and vague: this condition would require Johnson to access the Internet only through filters approved by his community custody officer. The Washington Supreme Court determined that when read in light of Johnson’s convictions for attempted second degree child rape, attempted sexual abuse of a minor, and communication with a minor for immoral purposes, the condition was neither overbroad nor vague. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Washington v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of unlawful distribution of heroin as a subsequent offender and unlawful possession of heroin with intent to distribute as a subsequent offender, holding that the superior court did not err by denying Defendant's motion to suppress and that there was no other error.In his suppression motion, Defendant sought to suppress evidence found during a warrantless search of a motor vehicle. The superior court denied the motion to suppress. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the denial of the suppression motion and Defendant's convictions, holding (1) the police had probable cause to search the vehicle, and there was no error in the denial of the motion to suppress; (2) the trial judge erred in allowing the admission of an in-court identification made by a police officer, but the error did not prejudice Defendant; and (3) there was no substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice as to the jury instructions on possession and distribution of narcotics. View "Commonwealth v. Ortiz" on Justia Law