Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

by
Two members of the Lipan-Apache Native American Church, Gary Perez and Matilde Torres, sued the City of San Antonio over its development plan for Brackenridge Park. They claimed that the plan, which involved tree removal and bird deterrence measures, would prevent them from performing religious ceremonies in the park, violating their rights under the First Amendment, the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Texas Constitution. They sought an injunction requiring the city to grant them access to the park for worship, minimize tree removal, and allow cormorants to nest.The district court granted them access to the park for religious ceremonies but declined to enjoin the city's planned tree removal and bird deterrence measures. Both parties appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the city's development plan did not substantially burden the appellants' religious exercise. The court also found that the city's plan served two compelling interests: public health and safety, and compliance with federal law. The court concluded that the city's tree removal and bird deterrence plans were the least restrictive means to advance these interests. Therefore, the appellants failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims. The court also denied the appellants' emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal. View "Perez v. City of San Antonio" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Harold McGhee, who was convicted and sentenced for drug trafficking. In August 2021, law enforcement received information from a confidential source about a drug dealer distributing large amounts of cocaine in Peoria, Illinois. The dealer was said to drive a Chevy Malibu and supplied cocaine to a house on West Millman Street. With this information, along with details from other informants and a tracking warrant, the police identified McGhee as the suspected dealer. They conducted three controlled buys and a trash pull at McGhee's residence, which led to the discovery of rubber gloves and baggies with a white powdery residue that tested positive for cocaine. This evidence led to a search warrant for McGhee's residence, vehicle, person, and electronic devices, resulting in the discovery of nearly a kilogram of various drugs, a handgun, and other drug trafficking paraphernalia.McGhee sought to suppress the evidence recovered at his residence and moved for a hearing to challenge the validity of the search warrant. He argued that the affidavit's use of "SUBJECT PREMISES," in reference to both his residence and the Millman Street house, was impermissibly ambiguous. The district court denied the motion. McGhee later renewed his motion to suppress, arguing that the trash pull was constitutionally unreasonable because it was executed without a warrant. The court denied this motion as well.On appeal, McGhee raised ten challenges to the criminal proceedings resulting in his convictions and sentence. The court considered some of his arguments on the merits and resolved others on procedural grounds. Ultimately, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court in all respects. View "United States v. McGhee" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the plaintiffs, BABE VOTE and the League of Women Voters of Idaho, challenged two amendments to Idaho's election laws, House Bills 124 and 340, which modified the forms of identification voters can use to prove their identity when registering to vote and voting at the polls. The plaintiffs argued that the bills violated the Idaho Constitution's guarantee of equal protection and unduly burdened the right of suffrage. The Idaho Secretary of State, Phil McGrane, counterclaimed, seeking a judgment declaring that the bills did not violate these rights under either the Idaho or the United States Constitutions. The district court granted the Secretary’s motions and entered judgment in favor of the Secretary.The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho affirmed the decisions of the district court. The court held that the bills were a valid exercise of the legislature’s power to enact conditions on the right of suffrage under Article VI, section 4 of the Idaho Constitution. The court applied the rational basis test and found that the new laws were rationally related to their stated purpose to clarify and create uniformity by requiring only generally accepted, authentic, and reliable forms of identification as a reasonable condition to exercise the right of suffrage. The court also found that the bills did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Idaho Constitution. View "BABE VOTE v. McGrane" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around Gregory Rogers, who was convicted of various drug and firearm-related crimes. The evidence leading to his conviction was obtained from his girlfriend's car, where he was found alone in the passenger seat. Rogers claimed that the evidence was collected in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, arguing that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the vehicle.Previously, the trial court had denied Rogers' motion to suppress the evidence. The court ruled that Rogers lacked a legitimate expectation of privacy in the vehicle as he was neither the owner nor the driver of the car and failed to show that he had permission to occupy it. The court also determined that the search was a valid inventory search. After trial, a jury convicted Rogers on all six counts.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the trial court's decision. The court agreed with the trial court that Rogers had no legitimate expectation of privacy in the vehicle. The court noted that Rogers had not exhibited a subjective expectation of privacy. He was neither the owner nor the driver of the vehicle, and he had not shown that he had "complete dominion and control" over the car. The court also noted that Rogers had twice informed the police that the car was not his and had loudly disclaimed his authority over the vehicle. Therefore, the court concluded that Rogers could not establish that the police had violated his Fourth Amendment rights. View "United States v. Rogers" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around Kyle Severson, who was convicted for mitigated deliberate homicide after shooting Tyler Hayden. Severson, his girlfriend, her sister, and his daughter were at a convenience store when Hayden and Dalton Watson arrived. Hayden approached Severson's car, and Severson shot him, claiming he feared Hayden would harm him or his daughter. Severson was charged with deliberate homicide and later found guilty of mitigated deliberate homicide, resulting in a forty-year prison sentence.Severson appealed his conviction, arguing that the District Court erred in denying his motion to dismiss based on the State's failure to disclose favorable evidence and that the cumulative effect of errors in the District Court denied him a fair trial. The undisclosed evidence included law enforcement investigative reports of a burglary at Severson's home and the contents of Watson's cell phone.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana concluded that the cumulative effect of errors in the proceedings denied Severson his constitutional rights to a fair trial and due process. The court found that the prosecutor's misconduct and the State's failure to disclose certain evidence had a direct bearing on the credibility of the witnesses at trial. The court reversed Severson's conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. View "State v. Severson" on Justia Law

by
The case involves a group of plaintiffs, including Forward Montana, Leo Gallagher, Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Gary Zadick, who challenged the constitutionality of two amendments to Senate Bill 319 (SB 319) passed by the Montana Legislature during the 2021 legislative session. The amendments, added during a closed-door committee meeting, were unrelated to the original subject of the bill, which was campaign finance. The plaintiffs argued that the amendments violated two sections of the Montana Constitution: Article V, Section 11(1), which requires that a law not be so altered or amended on its passage through the legislature as to change its original purpose, and Article V, Section 11(3), which requires that each bill contain only one subject, clearly expressed in its title.The District Court of the First Judicial District ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that the amendments violated the aforementioned sections of the Montana Constitution. The court permanently enjoined the enforcement of the contested sections of SB 319. The State of Montana, the defendant in the case, did not appeal the decision, effectively acknowledging the unconstitutionality of the bill.The plaintiffs then sought attorney fees under the private attorney general doctrine and the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA). The District Court denied the request, finding that the case was a "garden-variety" constitutional challenge undeserving of attorney fees under the doctrine. The court also denied fees under the UDJA, finding that the circumstances did not make fees equitable.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the District Court's decision, ruling that the plaintiffs were entitled to attorney fees under the private attorney general doctrine. The court found that the plaintiffs had vindicated important constitutional rights and that private enforcement was necessary due to the State's defense of the unconstitutional law. The court remanded the case to the District Court for calculation of attorney fees. View "Forward Montana v. State" on Justia Law

by
The plaintiffs, Reverend Kenneth Simon, Reverend Lewis W. Macklin, II, and Helen Youngblood, collectively known as the "Simon Parties," filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Redistricting Commission and several of its members. They alleged that Ohio's congressional districts violated section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Fifteenth Amendment. The Simon Parties requested a three-judge court under 28 U.S.C. § 2284, which the Ohio Redistricting Commission opposed, and moved to dismiss the complaint.The district court denied the motion to convene a three-judge court and granted the motions to dismiss. The court also denied all other pending motions. The Simon Parties appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The court found that the district court incorrectly determined that the Simon Parties' Fourteenth Amendment claim did not raise a substantial federal question for jurisdictional purposes. The court stated that the Simon Parties' allegations on this claim were sufficient to establish federal jurisdiction. The court concluded that the district court lacked jurisdiction as a single judge to adjudicate any other pending motion because it was required to convene a three-judge court under 28 U.S.C. § 2284.The court reversed the district court's order denying the motion for a three-judge court, vacated the district court's orders granting the motions to dismiss and denying the motion for temporary restraining order and motion for class certification, and remanded the case to the district court with instructions for it immediately to initiate the procedures to convene a three-judge court under 28 U.S.C. § 2284. View "Simon v. DeWine" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Darryl Colton Frazer, who was convicted and sentenced on drug and firearm offenses in 2023 in the District of Maryland. The charges stemmed from an incident in 2019 when Frazer was stopped by police officers who had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop. Frazer had thrown away a black bag just before he was apprehended, which was later found to contain a firearm and approximately 100 grams of marijuana. Frazer unsuccessfully moved to suppress this evidence, arguing that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him and that they needed a warrant to search the bag.The District Court rejected Frazer's suppression effort, ruling that the police officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop and could constitutionally search the bag that Frazer had discarded. Frazer was subsequently convicted for three offenses and sentenced to 72 months in prison. He appealed, challenging the denial of his suppression motion and the court’s failure to give a reasonable doubt instruction.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop Frazer, based on his headlong flight and noncompliance with the officers' commands. The court also ruled that Frazer had voluntarily abandoned his bag, and thus lacked Fourth Amendment standing to challenge the search. Regarding the reasonable doubt instruction, the court held that the district court was not required to define reasonable doubt to the jury, and thus did not abuse its discretion by declining to give the instruction. View "United States v. Frazer" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court of the State of Arizona considered whether the Arizona Legislature repealed or otherwise restricted A.R.S. § 13-3603 by enacting the abortion statutes in Title 36, specifically A.R.S. § 36-2322, which prohibits physicians from performing elective abortions after fifteen weeks’ gestation. The case arose from a motion for relief under Arizona Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5)–(6), seeking to set aside the permanent injunction against § 13-3603 imposed in 1973 following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade.Previously, the trial court granted the motion, vacating the judgment in its entirety to allow full enforcement of § 13-3603. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that licensed physicians who perform abortions in compliance with Title 36 are not subject to prosecution under § 13-3603.The Supreme Court of the State of Arizona held that § 36-2322 does not create a right to, or otherwise provide independent statutory authority for, an abortion that repeals or restricts § 13-3603. The court concluded that absent the federal constitutional abortion right, and because § 36-2322 does not independently authorize abortion, there is no provision in federal or state law prohibiting § 13-3603’s operation. Accordingly, § 13-3603 is now enforceable. The court affirmed the trial court’s judgment vacating the injunction of § 13-3603, vacated the court of appeals’ opinion and stay of enforcement of § 13-3603, and remanded to the trial court for potential consideration of the remaining constitutional challenges to §13-3603 alleged in Planned Parenthood’s complaint for declaratory relief. View "Planned Parenthood v. Mayes" on Justia Law

by
The case involves John Maron Nassif, who was convicted of four misdemeanor offenses for his role in the January 6, 2021, riot at the United States Capitol. He was sentenced to seven months in prison. On appeal, Nassif challenged one of his convictions and his sentence. The challenged conviction was for demonstrating in a United States Capitol building. Nassif argued that the statute’s prohibition against parading, demonstrating, or picketing in Capitol buildings is facially overbroad and void for vagueness in violation of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause.The district court rejected Nassif’s overbreadth claim, holding that the interior of the Capitol building is a nonpublic forum where the government may limit First Amendment activities so long as the restrictions are reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum and are viewpoint neutral. The court reasoned that, in enacting section 5104(e)(2)(G), Congress permissibly determined that its institutional interest in peaceful space in which to do its lawmaking work supports the challenged limitation on demonstrating inside the Capitol buildings.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court concluded that the prohibition is reasonable and that it clearly applies to Nassif’s conduct, so it rejected his facial challenges and affirmed the conviction. The court also rejected Nassif’s challenges to his sentence and affirmed it. View "United States v. Nassif" on Justia Law