Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the United States in a dispute over the planned transfer of a site, Oak Flat, of spiritual importance to the Apache tribe to a mining company, Resolution Copper. The nonprofit Apache Stronghold had sought to block the transfer, arguing that it would infrely violate its members’ rights under the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), and an 1852 treaty between the U.S. and the Apaches. The court, however, disagreed.Applying the precedent set in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, the court held that while the transfer of Oak Flat would significantly interfere with the Apache tribe's religious practices, it would not coerce them into acting contrary to their religious beliefs, and therefore did not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.Further, the court held that RFRA did not abrogate the holding in Lyng, and thus the planned land transfer did not "substantially burden" the Apache tribe's exercise of religion under RFRA.Finally, the court rejected the argument that an 1852 treaty created a trust obligation that would be violated by the transfer of Oak Flat. It interpreted the Land Transfer Act as abrogating any contrary treaty obligation. Consequently, the court held that Apache Stronghold was unlikely to succeed on the merits of any of its claims and therefore was not entitled to a preliminary injunction blocking the land transfer. View "Apache Stronghold v. United States" on Justia Law

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This case revolves around the eligibility of Jennie Armstrong, the winning candidate of Alaska’s House District 16 2022 general election. The losing candidate, Liz Vazquez, along with four House District 16 voters, challenged Armstrong's eligibility, arguing that she had not been a resident of Alaska for at least three years before filing for office, as required by the Alaska Constitution. Armstrong maintained that she became a resident on May 20, 2019, while Vazquez argued that her residency did not begin until June 7, 2019. The superior court ruled in favor of Armstrong, declaring her eligible to serve in the legislature.On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed the lower court’s decision. The Supreme Court agreed with the lower court's determination that Armstrong established her residency on May 20, 2019, but disagreed with the lower court's use of Title 15 to determine state residency. Instead, the Supreme Court held that Title 1, which states a person establishes residency in the state by being physically present with the intent to remain indefinitely and to make a home in the state, governs the state residency requirement for determining the eligibility of a legislative candidate. The Supreme Court found that Armstrong met the requirements of Title 1 and was therefore eligible to serve in the legislature. View "Vazquez v. Dahlstrom" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit organization that sought to unseal court filings from federal criminal investigations. The District Court in Minnesota dismissed the application for lack of jurisdiction, and the case was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.The Reporters Committee's application aimed to unseal electronic-surveillance filings, which were required to be filed under seal by a local rule. The District Court believed the request was too broad since the majority of the materials requested become unsealed after six months. The court suggested negotiations with the United States Attorney’s Office to reach a solution.The Reporters Committee subsequently filed an amended application, seeking an order directing the clerk of the court to presumptively unseal warrants and related documents after 180 days and to begin docketing the government’s applications for electronic surveillance regardless of whether a judge granted them. The Committee claimed these duties arose under the First Amendment and the common-law right of access to public records and documents.The District Court dismissed the application, concluding that the Committee lacked standing because all it had was a “generalized, abstract interest” in unsealing the records. This decision was affirmed by the Appeals Court, which held that the Committee failed to establish it suffered a “concrete” and “particularized” injury. It was also noted that the Committee did not sue anyone who could provide the relief it sought, hence there was a lack of adversity necessary for federal court adjudication. View "Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press v. United States" on Justia Law

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The case involves Sanimax USA, LLC, who sued the City of South Saint Paul, Minnesota, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the city's zoning and odor ordinances violated the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause. Sanimax contended that the city enacted these ordinances in retaliation for Sanimax challenging prior ordinances and that the ordinances unfairly singled out Sanimax. The district court granted the city's motion for summary judgment on all counts.Sanimax operates a rendering plant in South Saint Paul that processes animal carcasses and organic byproducts, emitting pungent, foul odors that have drawn numerous complaints from nearby residents and businesses. Sanimax was designated as a "Significant Odor Generator" by the city, and later challenged the constitutionality of the city's odor ordinance, alleging that it was unconstitutionally vague.The United States Court of Appeals For the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The Court found that Sanimax failed to show that the city's actions were a direct retaliation for Sanimax's prior lawsuits challenging the city's ordinances. Additionally, the Court rejected Sanimax's argument that it was unfairly singled out, finding that Sanimax was not similarly situated to other businesses due to the significantly higher number of odor complaints it generated. Lastly, the Court rejected Sanimax's argument that the city's odor ordinance was unconstitutionally vague, finding that the ordinance provided sufficient notice of the prohibited conduct and did not lend itself to arbitrary enforcement. View "Sanimax USA, LLC v. City of South St. Paul" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas, the appellant, the State of Kansas, challenged a trial court's decision to suppress the confession of a minor identified as G.O. The trial court had determined that the confession was not voluntary, and therefore inadmissible. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision, prompting G.O. to appeal to the Supreme Court.The Supreme Court of Kansas considered whether G.O.'s waiver of his Fifth Amendment rights and his confession were voluntary. Under the Fifth Amendment, an individual has the right to remain silent and not incriminate themselves. This right can be waived if the individual voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently chooses to speak. The court also examined whether G.O.’s Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated, which protect against involuntary confessions being used as evidence.The court found that while G.O. had been read his Miranda rights, the detective conducting the interview had made misleading statements that suggested G.O. was not in trouble and would not be arrested. The detective further suggested that the purpose of the interview was to help G.O.'s stepsister, which the court found was deceptive.The court also took into account G.O.’s age, his mental health issues, his lack of experience with law enforcement, and his educational struggles. The court concluded that these factors, in combination with the detective’s misleading statements, induced G.O. to confess involuntarily.Therefore, the court held that the trial court was correct in suppressing G.O.'s confession. It reversed the Court of Appeals' decision and affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "State v. G.O." on Justia Law

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The case involves a zoning enforcement action initiated by the Town of Pawlet against landowner Daniel Banyai. Banyai launched a firearms training facility on his property in 2017, which was found to be in violation of the town's Uniform Zoning Bylaws. The Environmental Division issued a judgment in 2021, ordering Banyai to remove unpermitted structures and have his property surveyed within 30 days. Banyai failed to comply with these orders, leading to the imposition of contempt sanctions.The contempt sanctions included fines of $200 per day until all violations were rectified, and the potential for Banyai's arrest. The court also granted the town permission to enter Banyai's property to remove the unpermitted structures if he continued to ignore the orders.Banyai appealed, arguing that the sanctions were punitive and violated the excessive fines clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Division's decision, deeming Banyai’s arguments an impermissible collateral attack on a final order. The court stated that Banyai had failed to challenge the February 2023 contempt order or denial of reconsideration by a timely direct appeal, which would have been the appropriate channel for his grievances. As a result, his attempt to challenge the determinations now were considered an impermissible collateral attack on the February 2023 contempt order. View "Town of Pawlet v. Banyai" on Justia Law

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The case before the Nebraska Supreme Court involved an appeal by Nathaniel L. Gnewuch, who was convicted of operating a motor vehicle to avoid arrest. Gnewuch had requested a deferred sentence under Nebraska Revised Statute § 29-2292, but the district court refused to consider his request, deeming the statute unconstitutional. On appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court examined the language of § 29-2292, which allows for a deferred judgement and probation for a guilty defendant, without the entry of a final judgement of conviction, under certain circumstances.The court rejected the district court's assertion that it lacked jurisdiction to impose a sentence of probation before the entry of a judgement of conviction, finding nothing in the Nebraska Constitution that prevented the Legislature from granting the district court such jurisdiction. The court also disagreed with the argument that § 29-2292 violates the separation of powers clause in the Nebraska Constitution by allowing the judiciary to invade the charging function, an inherent executive power. It concluded that the power to define criminal conduct and fix punishment is vested in the legislative branch, while the imposition of a sentence within these legislative limits is a judicial function.Therefore, the court held that § 29-2292 does not violate the separation of powers clause in the Nebraska Constitution and remanded the case back to the district court for consideration of Gnewuch's request for a deferred judgement. View "State v. Gnewuch" on Justia Law

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In this case, two state senators from Oregon, Dennis Linthicum and Brian Boquist, challenged a recent amendment to the Oregon Constitution that disqualifies any state senator or representative from the next election if they have accrued ten or more unexcused absences from legislative floor sessions. In 2023, the senators engaged in a legislative walkout spanning several weeks, each accumulating more than ten unexcused absences. As a result, Oregon's Secretary of State disqualified them from appearing on the ballot for the 2024 election. The senators sought a preliminary injunction, arguing that their walkout was a form of protest protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction. The court held that the senators' walkout was not protected by the First Amendment, as it was not a form of expression, but an exercise of legislative power. The court relied on the Supreme Court's decision in Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan, which held that the First Amendment does not protect the exercise of official legislative power, even if it could be characterized as expressive. The court also noted that the power of a legislator to be absent from legislative sessions, and thereby frustrate legislative action, is not personal to the legislator but belongs to the people. Therefore, the senators could not claim a personal First Amendment right to walk out. The court concluded that the senators were unlikely to prevail on the merits of their First Amendment retaliation claim and affirmed the denial of their request for a preliminary injunction. View "Linthicum v. Wagner" on Justia Law

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In 2024, the Supreme Court of Florida affirmed the convictions and death sentences of Everett Glenn Miller for the first-degree premeditated murders of Kissimmee Police Officers Matthew Baxter and Richard “Sam” Howard. In August 2017, Miller had interrupted a conversation Officer Baxter was having with three individuals, requesting the presence of a superior officer at the scene. After Sergeant Howard arrived, Miller shot both officers twice in the head from close range. At the time of his arrest later that night, Miller was found carrying two firearms, including the murder weapon.Prior to the murders, Miller, a former Marine, had been posting hateful anti-police and race-based comments on social media. At trial, Miller did not dispute that he had killed the officers, but his defense argued that premeditation was lacking and that the murders should be considered second-degree. The jury convicted Miller of two counts of first-degree premeditated murder and unanimously recommended death for each murder.Miller raised seven issues on appeal, including arguments about the admissibility of certain evidence, the qualifications of an expert witness, the presence of the cold, calculated, and premeditated (CCP) aggravating factor, and the constitutionality of Florida's capital punishment scheme. The court found no merit in any of these arguments and affirmed Miller's convictions and death sentences. View "Miller v. State of Florida" on Justia Law

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In this appeal of a criminal case, the Supreme Court of the State of Utah concluded that the police officers' warrantless entry and search of Alexander Hung Tran’s home were reasonable and justified under the emergency aid exception to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The court also declined to recognize broader protection under the Utah Constitution in the emergency aid context. The case arose when Tran appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence that police officers obtained during a warrantless entry and search of his home. The officers had entered Tran's home due to their belief that two individuals inside were in need of immediate aid, which was supported by a range of factors. The court held that the totality of the circumstances known to the police officers at the time they entered Tran’s home supported an objectively reasonable basis to believe that the two individuals were in need of immediate aid, thus falling within the emergency aid exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. View "State v. Tran" on Justia Law