Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

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The previous opinion is withdrawn and replaced by the following opinion concurrently filed with this order. On remand from the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit (1) affirmed the district court's bench trial judgment upholding Alaska's political party-to-party candidate limit; (2) reversed the district court's judgment as to the individual-to-candidate limit, the individual-to-group limit, and the nonresident aggregate limit; and (3) remanded.In this case, at issue are Alaska's limits on contributions made by individuals to candidates, individuals to election-related groups, and political parties to candidates, and also its limit on the total funds a candidate may receive from out-of-state residents. On remand, the court's resolution of the challenges to the political party-to-candidate and nonresident limits remains the same, affirming the district court's decision upholding the former but reversing the decision upholding the latter. However, the panel reversed the district court's decision upholding the individual-to-candidate and individual-to-group limits, applying the five-factor Randall test and concluding that Alaska failed to meet its burden of showing that its individual contribution limit was closely drawn to meet its objectives. The panel explained that, on top of its danger signs, the limit significantly restricts the amount of funds available to challengers to run competitively against incumbents, and the already-low limit is not indexed for inflation. Furthermore, Alaska has not established a special justification for such a low limit. The panel also concluded that, similarly, Alaska has not met its burden of showing that the $500 individual-to-group limit is closely drawn to restrict contributors from circumventing the individual-to-candidate limit. View "Thompson v. Hebdon" on Justia Law

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Texas state prisoner Haverkamp, a biological male at birth who identifies as a transgender woman, sued, alleging violations of the Equal Protection Clause by denying Haverkamp medically necessary sex-reassignment surgery and by failing to provide certain female commissary items and a long-hair pass. Texas’s Correctional Managed Healthcare Committee has a policy concerning the treatment of gender disorders. Based on the state’s advisory, the district court ordered service of Haverkamp’s operative complaint on Dr. Murray, whom the state identified as the proper defendant if Haverkamp were seeking sex-reassignment surgery, and the nine Committee members who had not yet been named as parties. The district court subsequently denied motions to dismiss, concluding that the state was not entitled to sovereign immunity.The Fifth Circuit vacated. Haverkamp’s suit is barred by sovereign immunity because the Committee members are not proper defendants under Ex Parte Young; Haverkamp fails to allege they have the requisite connection to enforcing the policies Haverkamp challenges. In light of the state’s representations to the district court that these defendants are the proper state officials to sue, the court did not dismiss them from the case. View "Haverkamp v. Linthicum" on Justia Law

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After Topletz lost a civil case in Texas state court, the plaintiff served him with discovery requests aimed at uncovering his assets. Topletz supplied many of the requested records but failed to produce documents related to a family trust of which he is a beneficiary. The court ordered production, but the trustee (Topletz’s brother) purportedly sent Topletz a letter stating that the trust agreement allowed Topletz only to inspect the documents, not to obtain copies, and that it would breach the trustee’s fiduciary duty to supply the requested records. The state court granted a motion for contempt and sanctions against Topletz, finding that the requested documents were under his control for purposes of discovery. The court sentenced Topletz to detention for 14 days or until he provided proper responses.After unsuccessful state court proceedings, Topletz filed a federal habeas petition, arguing that the contempt order violated his constitutional right to due process by requiring him to produce documents that he could not obtain. He requested a preliminary injunction to allow him to remain free during the adjudication of his petition. The district court denied Topletz the preliminary injunction because it found that he was unlikely to succeed on the merits. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. Topletz failed to show a substantial likelihood that the state court’s decision was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent or based on an unreasonable interpretation of the facts in light of the evidence. View "Topletz v. Skinner" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a complaint challenging a COVID-19 public health order entered by St. Louis County in April 2020 which included provisions limiting the size of gatherings in churches. Plaintiffs allege that the order violated their rights to free exercise of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly under federal and state law. The district court concluded that plaintiffs lacked Article III standing on these claims because they did not adequately allege that an order of the court would redress their injuries.The court concluded that the district court properly construed the complaint and correctly dismissed it for lack of an Article III case or controversy. The court explained that the district court properly limited its analysis to whether plaintiffs alleged a redressable injury arising from their inability to participate in religious activities with ten or more persons at their respective churches. The court agreed with the district court that the complaint does not adequately allege that an injunction against enforcement of the April 2020 Public Health Order would have redressed plaintiffs' injuries. The court stated that, without a sufficient factual allegation that plaintiffs' churches would allow ten or more persons to gather if the Order were enjoined, the complaint did not adequately allege Article III standing.The court also concluded that, even if plaintiffs had adequately alleged Article III standing in May 2020, any controversy over the Public Health Order of April 20, 2020, is now moot. In this case, given the developments since May 2020, there is no reasonable expectation that the County will reinstate its Order of April 2020 and limit religious gatherings to fewer than ten persons. Furthermore, there have also been developments in the law. View "Hawse v. Page" on Justia Law

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Von Lester Taylor and an accomplice, Edward Deli, murdered two unarmed women who tragically encountered them burglarizing a mountain cabin in December 1990. Taylor confessed to shooting the women; he never denied he fired the first shot in the brutal attack that lead to their deaths. Taylor pled guilty to two counts of first degree murder and was sentenced to death by a Utah jury. He challenged his convictions through a petition for federal habeas corpus, contending missteps by his trial counsel lead to a defective guilty plea. The Tenth Circuit determined Taylor failed to raise his ineffective-counsel claim in Utah state court, and this would have been a procedural bar to federal habeas relief. This notwithstanding, Taylor argued that despite re-affirming time and again he participated in the murders, he was “actually innocent” of them. Thus, he contended, the Tenth Circuit should consider his underlying claims. At the district court, Taylor presented new ballistics evidence that he alleged called into question whether he fired the fatal shots in the two murders. The court credited Taylor’s claim, set aside the convictions, and considered the merits of Taylor’s claims for habeas relief. In its review, the Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s assessment of Taylor’s actual innocence claim. “To answer the question of whether he can be actually innocent of the crime: He cannot. Mr. Taylor ‘is not innocent, in any sense of the word.’” The district court’s grant of habeas relief was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Taylor v. Powell" on Justia Law

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This case arose from Port's efforts, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps, in planning and executing the Freeport Harbor Channel Improvement Project. To construct new facilities, the Port needs land, and has consequently been acquiring properties in the East End with the goal of eventually buying up the entire neighborhood. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that defendants intentionally discriminated against East End residents during its expansion in violation of section 601 of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and denied plaintiff's administrative complaint in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).The Fifth Circuit concluded that the district court properly dismissed plaintiff's section 601 claim because plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege that the Port acted with discriminatory intent. However, the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's APA claim. The court explained that the Corps' decision to deny plaintiff's administrative complaint was not committed to its discretion and is thus reviewable under the APA. On remand, the court instructed the district court to consider only the issue of whether the Corps correctly denied plaintiff's administrative complaint on the basis that it lacked jurisdiction due to an absence of federal financial assistance within the meaning of Title VI. View "Rollerson v. Brazos River Harbor Navigation District of Brazoria County Texas" on Justia Law

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California has two statutory mechanisms for detaining, evaluating, and treating persons who have been declared incompetent to stand trial for a felony that entailed a threat of bodily harm, and who continue to pose a danger to others. When the reason is a "developmental disability," the applicable mechanism is civil commitment under Welfare and Institutions Code section 6500; when the reason is a "mental disease, defect, or disorder," the applicable mechanism is a so-called Murphy conservatorship under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (LPS Act) (section 5000 et seq.), section 5008, subdivision (h)(1)(B). Under section 6500, the one-year recommitment period ends on the anniversary of the date of the recommitment order; for a Murphy conservatorship, the one-year period ends on the anniversary of the date of the initial commitment order. Because, as is common, recommitment orders under section 6500 are not fully litigated (and hence not issued) until after the anniversary of the date of the initial commitment order, the end dates for section 6500 recommitments typically get pushed out further and further with each recommitment.The Court of Appeal held that this "creep" of the end date under section 6500 does not violate equal protection in regard to Murphy conservatorships. The court explained that individuals civilly committed under section 6500 and Murphy conservatorships are not similarly situated for purposes of fixing the end date for a recommitment. Even assuming that persons civilly committed under section 6500 and in a Murphy conservatorship are similarly situated for purposes of the timetable for terminating a one-year period for a recommitment, the court concluded that there is a sufficient justification for that differential treatment that withstands rational basis scrutiny. Accordingly, the court affirmed the end date for the section 6500 recommitment in this case. View "People v. Nolasco" on Justia Law

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Defendant Johnny Lapenias committed multiple sex offenses against his stepdaughter. However, the stepdaughter did not disclose Lapenias’ sexual abuse to the police until years later, when she was 14 years old. At a jury trial, the trial court admitted expert testimony regarding Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome (CSAAS), a theory that identified typical behaviors of sexually abused children, including delayed disclosures. During the CSAAS expert’s testimony, a juror asked: “Is it common for children to make up a story that abuse occurred, when, in fact it did not?” Over Lapenias’ objection, the CSAAS expert testified: “No, that’s rare.” The jury later found Lapenias guilty of the charged sex offenses and the trial court imposed a life sentence. On appeal, Lapenias challenged the admission of the CSAAS evidence, the related jury instruction, the CSAAS expert’s testimony, and statutory fines and fees. The Court of Appeal found the trial court erred by allowing the CSAAS expert to testify that it is “rare” for children to make up stories about sexual abuse, but the Court did not find the error to be prejudicial. Finding no other errors, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "California v. Lapenias" on Justia Law

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North Carolina filed suit in state court seeking recovery of an unpaid civil penalty against the Marine Corps for failing an air quality compliance test. After the federal government defendants removed to federal court, the district court dismissed the case.The Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the Clean Air Act does not preclude removal but does waive sovereign immunity as to the penalty at issue here. The court concluded that the United States properly removed this suit under the federal officer removal statute and rejected North Carolina's contention that the Clean Air Act's state suit provision, 42 U.S.C. 7604(e), implicitly carves out a narrow exception to removal that precludes federal adjudication of this federal immunity defense. Rather, these two statutes are capable of coexistence and, contrary to North Carolina's argument, section 7604(e) does not require actions brought in state court to remain there. The court also concluded that the Clean Air Act unambiguously and unequivocally waives the United States' sovereign immunity as to all civil penalties assessed pursuant to state air pollution law, including punitive penalties like the one at issue here. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "North Carolina v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner, who was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. This court previously granted petitioner's application for a certificate of appealability (COA) on two issues: first, whether petitioner's trial was tainted by the exclusion of black jurors (the Batson Claim); and second, whether trial counsel rendered unconstitutionally ineffective assistance before trial and during the guilt phase of trial by failing to conduct an adequate investigation (the Strickland Claim).After rejecting the state's procedural default, abandonment, and waiver arguments, the court concluded that, because petitioner cannot identify clearly established federal law requiring state courts sua sponte to find and consider all facts and circumstances that may bear on whether a peremptory strike was racially motivated when those facts and circumstances were not identified by the strike's challenger, this argument is insufficient to surmount the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act's relitigation bar and the court is unable to grant relief on the Batson Claim. The court also concluded that petitioner's Strickland Claim ultimately fails because he cannot show prejudice affecting his substantial rights. In this case, the "unaffected" circumstantial evidence of petitioner's crime, including his direct confession, is overwhelming. View "Ramey v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law