Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, former President Donald Trump was appealing a district court's denial of his motion to dismiss an indictment against him. The indictment was based on his actions contesting the results of the 2020 presidential election and interfering with the constitutional transfer of power to his successor. Trump argued that, as a former President, he was immune from prosecution for his official actions while in office.The appeals court disagreed and affirmed the district court's decision. It held that former presidents are not immune from federal criminal prosecution for their official acts. The court concluded that the Constitution, federal statutes, and history do not support the existence of such immunity. The court also noted that former President Trump's actions in question, if proven, constituted an unprecedented assault on the structure of the U.S. government.Additionally, the court rejected Trump's contention that his impeachment and acquittal by the Senate for the same or closely related conduct bar his subsequent criminal prosecution under principles of double jeopardy. The court held that impeachment is a political process and does not result in criminal punishment, and the crimes alleged in the indictment differ from the offense for which Trump was impeached. Thus, the court concluded that the Double Jeopardy Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not apply.These holdings allowed the criminal prosecution against Trump to proceed. View "USA v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Kaboni Savage, a federal prisoner, brought a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice arguing that the department was infringing upon his First Amendment rights by limiting his communication with family and friends. Savage claimed that the restrictions imposed under the Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) were unjust. However, Savage did not complete the Justice Department's Administrative Remedy Program (ARP), a process designed to seek relief from such restrictions. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed Savage's lawsuit, citing the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (PLRA), a law requiring prisoners to exhaust all available administrative remedies before bringing a lawsuit. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, stating that Savage did not fully pursue all available administrative remedies and hence, his lawsuit was barred under the PLRA. View "Savage v. DOJ" on Justia Law

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In this case, Michael W. Langeman, a former Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), appealed against the dismissal of his complaint for failure to state a claim. Langeman was terminated from his position after an investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed his mishandling of the investigation into sexual abuse allegations against USA Gymnastics Physician Lawrence Gerard Nassar. Langeman claimed that his termination violated his constitutional rights protected by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. He argued that his termination violated a constitutionally protected property interest in his continued employment and deprived him of a constitutionally protected liberty interest in his reputation, thereby damaging his future employment in law enforcement.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagreed with Langeman's arguments. The court held that Langeman failed to sufficiently plead deprivation of a property interest or liberty interest without due process. The court found that the FBI had explicitly retained the discretion to summarily terminate employees, and this did not create a legitimate property interest sufficient to state a claim under procedural due process. As for Langeman's claim of deprivation of a liberty interest, the court found that Langeman did not establish that any allegedly defamatory conduct accompanied his dismissal from government employment.Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Langeman’s complaint for failure to state a claim. It also found that Langeman could not demonstrate a clear right to relief for his mandamus claim due to his deficient due process allegations, therefore mandamus relief was not available to him. View "Langeman v. Merrick Garland" on Justia Law

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In a case involving former U.S. President Donald J. Trump, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has partially upheld and partially vacated a lower court's order restricting Trump's public statements about the trial. The case stems from Trump being indicted for conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election through unlawful means and for obstructing the election’s certification. Trump had posted numerous statements on social media attacking potential witnesses in the case, the judge, and the prosecution team. The lower court issued an order restraining the parties and their counsel from making public statements that "target" the parties, counsel and their staffs, court personnel, and "any reasonably foreseeable witness or the substance of their testimony." On appeal, the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the order insofar as it prohibited all parties and their counsel from making public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses concerning their potential participation in the investigation or in the criminal proceeding. The court also upheld the order to the extent it prohibited parties and their counsel from making public statements about counsel in the case other than the Special Counsel, members of the court’s staff and counsel’s staffs, or the family members of any counsel or staff member, if those statements were made with the intent to materially interfere with the trial or with the knowledge that such interference was highly likely to result. However, the court vacated the order to the extent it covered speech beyond these categories. The court found that the order was justified by a sufficiently serious risk of prejudice to an ongoing judicial proceeding, that no less restrictive alternatives would adequately address that risk, and that the order was narrowly tailored to ensure the fair administration of justice while also respecting Trump's First Amendment rights. View "USA v. Donald Trump" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled on an appeal by former President Donald J. Trump regarding his claim of presidential immunity from civil damages liability related to the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot. Plaintiffs included Capitol Police officers and members of Congress who alleged that Trump, through his actions and speech, incited the riot that resulted in physical injuries and emotional distress.The court determined that, at this stage in the proceedings, Trump has not demonstrated an entitlement to presidential immunity. It distinguished between actions carried out in a president’s official capacity, which are protected by immunity, and those carried out in a private or unofficial capacity, which are not. The court rejected Trump's argument that presidential speech on matters of public concern is always an official function, stating that such speech can be either official or unofficial depending on context.The court also rejected Trump's claim that his actions leading up to and on January 6 were official because they were under his Article II duty to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed," stating that this claim is not independent of his ability to show that he engaged in the relevant actions in his official capacity as President rather than his unofficial capacity as a presidential candidate.The court held that Trump's actions as alleged in the complaints, if proven to be true, were carried out in his capacity as a presidential candidate, not as the sitting President. Therefore, he is subject to civil suits like any private citizen. However, the court specified that Trump must be allowed to present facts and make arguments in the district court that his actions were taken in his official capacity. View "Blassingame v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Appellant participated in the riot that took place on January 6, 2021, at the United States Capitol. The riot interrupted and delayed Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote that determined the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. A jury convicted Appellant of obstructing the vote certification in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1512(c)(2). On appeal, Appellant contends that the evidence was insufficient to show that he acted “corruptly,” as Section 1512(c)(2) requires. He also challenged his 87-month sentence, making new arguments on appeal that the district court erred in applying two specific offense characteristics for obstruction of the “administration of justice.”   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to establish that Robertson acted “corruptly,” and the district court did not plainly err in applying the specific offense characteristics. The court explained that the interpretations of “corruptly” posited by Appellant and the Fischer concurrence appear to confuse sufficiency with necessity: Their proposed definitions of “corruptly” may be sufficient to prove corrupt intent, but neither dishonesty nor seeking a benefit for oneself or another is necessary to demonstrate “wrongful, immoral, depraved, or evil” behavior within the meaning of Section 1512(c). The court wrote that it declined to adopt the limited constructions of “corruptly” proffered by Appellant and the Fischer concurrence, which each insist that the broad concept of “corrupt” intent must be proved in only one way. View "USA v. Thomas Robertson" on Justia Law

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Representative Scott Perry’s cell phone, which was seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation pursuant to a warrant. In a district court motion, Representative Perry argued the Clause bars the government from reviewing many of the messages stored on the phone. As to communications with Executive Branch officials and parties outside of Congress, Representative Perry argued that his messages are necessarily privileged because they constitute “informal factfinding”—a capacious category he asserts is always privileged and includes a Member’s attempts to obtain information related to topics of upcoming votes without express House authorization. The district court held none of these communications were privileged because they were “political” or not fact-finding at all. The DC Circuit stayed the district court’s order pending appeal and expedited the case.   The DC Circuit vacated the judgment in part and remanded. The court explained that as o Representative Perry’s communications with individuals outside the federal government, communications with members of the Executive Branch, and communications with other Members of Congress regarding alleged election fraud during the period before Congress’s vote certifying the 2020 election and before its vote on H.R. 1, the district court failed to apply the fact-specific privilege inquiry under Gravel. The court affirmed with respect to the remaining privilege determinations about Representative Perry’s communications with Members of Congress. View "In re: Sealed Case (PUBLIC REISSUED OPINION)" on Justia Law

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In 2022, the Commission promulgated a rule that set stringent safety standards for the operating cords on custom-made window coverings based on a finding that such cords pose a strangulation risk to young children. The rule sought to eliminate the risk of injury by essentially prohibiting corded window products, and it set an aggressive timeline for industry compliance with the new standards. The Window Covering Manufacturers Association (“WCMA”) filed a petition in this court challenging the rule and its compliance deadline.   The DC Circuit granted WCMA’s petition for review and vacated the rule. The court held that the Commission breached notice-and-comment requirements, erroneously relied on certain data in its cost-benefit analysis, and selected an arbitrary effective date for the rule. The court reasoned that the Commission did not explain why it chose to credit the opinion of Safe T Shade’s company president over the contrary feedback that it received from 401 other commenters, the Small Business Association, and its own staff.  The court explained that if the Commission wishes to extend a safety standard’s effective date, it must find good cause to do so, and regardless of such an extension, the Commission must find that the effective date. View "Window Covering Manufacturers Association v. CPSC" on Justia Law

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The Copyright Office sent a letter to Valancourt Books, LLC, an independent press based in Richmond, Virginia, demanding physical copies of Valancourt’s published books on the pain of fines. Valancourt protested that it could not afford to deposit physical copies and that much of what it published was in the public domain. In response, the Office narrowed the list of demanded works but continued to demand that Valancourt deposit copies of its books with the Library of Congress or otherwise face a fine. Valancourt then brought this action against the Register of Copyrights and the Attorney General. Valancourt challenged the application of Section 407’s deposit requirement against it as an unconstitutional taking of its property in violation of the Fifth Amendment and an invalid burden on its speech in violation of the First Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment to the government on both claims.   The DC Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in the government’s favor and remanded for the entry of judgment to Valancourt and the award of relief. The court concluded that Section 407, as applied by the Copyright Office in this case, worked an unconstitutional taking of Valancourt’s property. The court explained that the Office demanded that Valancourt relinquish property (physical copies of copyrighted books) on the pain of fines. And because the requirement to turn over copies of the works is not a condition of attaining (or retaining) copyright protection in them, the demand to forfeit property cannot be justified as the conferral of a benefit in exchange for property. View "Valancourt Books, LLC v. Merrick Garland" on Justia Law

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Defendant committed a petty offense. The district court sentenced him to prison, followed by probation. The only question on appeal is whether that sentence is authorized by statute.   The DC Circuit vacated Defendant’s sentence and remanded for resentencing. The court held that probation and imprisonment are alternative sentences that cannot generally be combined. So the district court could not impose both for Defendant’s petty offense. The court explained that the government’s reading conflicts with the statutory scheme of Section 3561. Congress made probation and imprisonment separate options for separate offenses, length of post-confinement monitoring to the severity of an offense. The Government’s reading subverts those choices. View "USA v. James Little" on Justia Law