Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Tavis Crane’s estate and the passengers of Crane’s car sued Arlington Police Officer (Officer) and the City of Arlington for the use of excessive force during a traffic stop in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The district court dismissed the passengers’ claims, finding that they could not bring claims as bystanders, and granted summary judgment to the Officer and the City after determining that the Officer was entitled to qualified immunity.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the passengers’ claims and vacate the grant of summary judgment as to Crane’s claims and dismiss the appeals of those claims for want of jurisdiction. The court explained that there is no express requirement for a physical injury in an excessive force claim,80 but even if the passengers stated a plausible claim for psychological injuries, the officer is entitled to qualified immunity. “Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized that the right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it.” Here, there was no unreasonable use of force against the passengers, so no constitutional injury occurred. View "Crane v. City of Arlington" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence obtained by federal agents after a hotel manager opened the door to a room containing Defendant. Defendant moved to suppress the fruits of the hotel-room search, arguing that the hotel manager was acting as a Government agent and that the Government lacked a warrant that authorized the search. The district court held a suppression hearing and denied the motion. Defendant thereafter pleaded guilty to illegal reentry under 8 U.S.C. Section 1326, reserving his right to challenge the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the district court properly found that this search was a private search. As private searches do not implicate the Fourth Amendment, the district court correctly denied Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained from the search in question.   The court explained that the district court correctly found that the Government did not affirmatively encourage the hotel manager to open the door and thus did not acquiesce to the manager’s search. These findings are supported by the record and, given that the district court was in the best position to evaluate the credibility and context of witness statements, are not clearly erroneous. View "USA v. Cordova-Espinoza" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, including the American Civil Liberties Union, sought an injunction compelling the Texas Attorney General to release the names of certain individuals who were suspected of being non-citizens but were registered to vote. The case arose when the Texas Attorney General began matching Department of Public Safety data against voter registration rolls on a weekly basis and intended to notify county election officials of voters identified as potential non-citizens. Through their claim under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, Plaintiffs obtained an injunction from the district court requiring the State of Texas to provide the names and voter identification numbers of persons suspected of being noncitizens though registered to vote.The Fifth Circuit reversed, finding that Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring a case under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, finding that they did not suffer injury in fact because "an injury in law is not an injury in fact." View "Campaign Legal Center v. Scott" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a Texas Justice of the Peace, opened his courtroom with a prayer every morning. The plaintiffs, a group of litigants appearing before the judge, sought an injunction preventing Defendant from doing so. The district court granted Plaintiff's request for an injunction, which the Fifth Circuit stayed pending resolution on the merits.In resolving the merits, the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment and entered judgment for Defendant. The court concluded that as long as Defendant 1.) has a policy of denominational nondiscrimination and that (2) anyone may choose not to participate and suffer no consequences, Defendant's practice is non-coercive. Defendant allowed anyone to participate in the prayer and would select attendees to lead the prayer without regard to their beliefs. View "Freedom From Religion v. Mack" on Justia Law

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Appellant, a Canadian citizen not legally present in the United States, was arrested and charged with various firearms offenses following the execution of an administrative warrant at his trailer. Appellant unsuccessfully litigated a motion to suppress, claiming that agents exceeded the scope of the administrative warrant by arresting him not in a public place -- in the threshold of his trailer. The district court concluded that Appellant was not seized until after he had exited the trailer and that he was not located on any curtilage of the trailer.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding that the district court's resolution of Appellant's motion to suppress was not clearly erroneous. “[A] person standing in the doorway of a house is ʻin a “public” place,’ and hence subject to arrest without a warrant permitting entry of the home.” Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 335 (2001). The Fifth Circuit also held that the district court did not err in finding that Appellant consented to the search of his trailer following his arrest. View "USA v. Malagerio" on Justia Law

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Defendant pled guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. His plea reserved the right to appeal the district court’s denial of his motion to suppress. He challenges the district court’s determination that a firearm and cell phone discovered in his car, as well as statements he made to officers, were admissible.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that here, the officers relied on their computer records that listed Defendant’s warrants. They did not have the complaints underlying the warrants or other information that might have revealed possible invalidity. Without “deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent” conduct on the part of the police, excluding evidence has little, if any, deterrent value and is therefore unjustified. In sum, the court wrote, there is nothing in the record that would show that the officers’ reliance on the computer records was not objectively reasonable. The district court did not err in applying the good faith exception, and the officers were justified in their reliance on the traffic warrants as a basis for arrest.   Further, the only significant statement was Defendant’s answer to being asked if “there is anything [the officer] should know about” in the vehicle. Defendant responded that there is “something you might take me to jail for if I tell you,” and he then told the officer about a pistol in the console. The statement is not independently significant. Accordingly, the court rejected any prejudicial error from the admission of the statement. View "USA v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Following Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022), the State of Louisiana filed an “emergency Rule 60(b) motion to vacate permanent injunction” concerning the enforcement of Act 620, which requires physicians performing abortions to have “active admitting privileges” within thirty miles of the facility at which the abortions are performed. La. R.S. 40:1299.35.2(A)(2). It requested relief forthwith or, alternatively, relief within two days of filing its motion. Two days later, the district court denied the State’s motion. The State immediately filed an “emergency motion for reconsideration” and requested a ruling by the next day. The district court again denied the State’s motion.   The Fifth Circuit dismissed the appeal holding that the court lacks appellate jurisdiction. The court explained the district court’s orders cannot be read to have denied the underlying request for relief when the district court implicitly and explicitly stated its intent to defer a ruling on the matter. Further, the court reasoned that to have the “practical effect” of refusing to dissolve an injunction, the State must show that the orders have a “direct impact on the merits of the controversy.” The court noted that the district court’s orders did not touch the merits of the State’s underlying request for relief but, for the same reasons stated earlier, acted as the functional equivalent of a scheduling order. Lastly, the court held that the State has not shown it is entitled to mandamus. View "June Medical Svcs v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sued Harris County and its Sheriff to enjoin enforcement of Harris County’s allegedly unconstitutional felony-bail system. While doing so, plaintiffs served subpoenas duces tecum on county district judges (Felony Judges)—the non-party movant-appellants here— seeking information about their roles in creating and enforcing Harris County’s bail schedule. The Felony Judges moved to quash on several grounds, including sovereign immunity, judicial immunity, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45’s undue-burden standard, and the “mental processes” rule. The district court denied the motion in part and granted it in part, denying sovereign immunity, judicial immunity, and the mental processes rule and allowing the bulk of the subpoenas to proceed.   The Fifth Circuit reversed explaining that the sovereign immunity bars these subpoenas and the mental processes rule might also apply. The court explained that Plaintiffs and their amicus marshal a variety of cases at common law and the Founding era in an attempt to show that sovereign immunity does not apply to third-party subpoenas. But as the Felony Judges note, these cases fail to show that subpoenas commonly issued over the objection of a public official entitled to sovereign immunity. Thus, because Burr United States v. Burr, arose in a different context and answered a question not asked in this case, it does not tip the balance when weighed against the nature of sovereign immunity as interpreted by the Supreme Court and applied by the Fifth Circuit and others in analogous contexts. View "Russell v. Jones" on Justia Law

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This case involves HB 20, a Texas statute that regulates large social media platforms. The law regulates platforms with more than 50 million monthly active users (“Platforms”), such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Section 120.002(b). In enacting HB 20, the Texas legislature found that the Platforms “function as common carriers are affected with a public interest, are central public forums for public debate, and have enjoyed governmental support in the United States.”  The platforms urged the Fifth Circuit to hold that the statute is facially unconstitutional and hence cannot be applied to anyone at any time and under any circumstances.   The Fifth Circuit vacated the preliminary injunction, explaining that the court rejects the idea that corporations have a freewheeling First Amendment right to censor what people say. The court explained that the Platforms’ attempt to extract freewheeling censorship right from the Constitution’s free speech guarantee. The Platforms are not newspapers. Their censorship is not speech. They’re not entitled to pre-enforcement facial relief. And HB 20 is constitutional because it neither compels nor obstructs the Platforms’ own speech in any way. The district court erred in concluding otherwise and abused its discretion by issuing a preliminary injunction. View "NetChoice v. Paxton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from the dismissal of his claims challenging tax penalties assessed against him, as well as the revocation of his passport pursuant to those penalties. He also appealed the denial of an award of attorneys’ fees under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Plaintiff sought to overturn the penalties, restrain collection of them, or otherwise cast doubt on the validity of the assessment. The government has not waived its sovereign immunity for those challenges, and so the district court was correct to dismiss them for lack of jurisdiction. Further, the court explained that Congress was within its rights to provide the IRS another arrow in its quiver to support its efforts to recoup seriously delinquent tax debts. Under even intermediate scrutiny, the passport-revocation scheme is constitutional. Thus, the district court was correct to dismiss Plaintiff’s challenge.   Finally, the court explained that when considering FOIA attorneys’ fees, the court has generally looked with disfavor on cases with no public benefit. Here, the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to award fees. Plaintiff’s lawsuit is far afield from the purposes for which FOIA, and its attorneys’ fees provision, were designed. There is no public value in the information and no value for anyone other than Plaintiff. Instead, Plaintiff only sought the information to aid him in his personal fight with the IRS regarding his tax penalties. View "Franklin v. United States" on Justia Law