Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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The case revolves around a local ordinance in the Borough of Camp Hill that regulates the display of signs on private property. The ordinance categorizes signs into about twenty different types, each with its own set of restrictions. Two residents, Katherine Pearson and Caroline Machiraju, displayed political signs on their lawns in the lead-up to the 2022 midterm elections. However, they were told to remove their signs as they violated the local sign ordinance. The ordinance categorized their signs as "Temporary Signs" and further classified them as "Personal Expression Signs," which express a non-commercial message. The ordinance limited the number of such signs a resident could display and the time frame within which they could be displayed.The residents complied with the directive but subsequently sued Camp Hill, challenging the provisions of the ordinance under the First Amendment. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted them summary judgment on their facial challenge, ruling that the provisions were content-based and failed strict scrutiny.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision. The Court of Appeals found that the ordinance was content-based as it classified signs based on their content, favoring commercial expression over noncommercial and holiday messages over non-holiday messages. The court held that such content-based restrictions could only stand if they furthered a compelling government interest and were narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. The court found that Camp Hill's interests in traffic safety and aesthetics, while legitimate, were not compelling and that the ordinance was not narrowly tailored to serve those interests. The court concluded that the ordinance was unconstitutional on its face. View "Camp Hill Borough Republican Association v. Borough of Camp HIll" on Justia Law

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The case involves a challenge to New Jersey's primary election ballot design, known as the "county-line" ballot. The plaintiffs, Andy Kim, Sarah Schoengood, and Carolyn Rush, who are all Democratic candidates for various offices, argue that the county-line ballot design infringes their First Amendment rights. They contend that the design unfairly favors candidates endorsed by local party leaders, placing them in prime ballot positions, while disadvantaging those who are not endorsed or choose not to associate with certain candidates.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, where the plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the use of county-line ballots and require the use of office-block format ballots instead. The District Court granted the injunction, finding that the plaintiffs had shown a severe burden on their First Amendment rights and that the state's interests did not outweigh these burdens.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision. The Court of Appeals agreed that the county-line ballot design imposed a severe burden on the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights. It also found that the design likely violated the Elections Clause of the Constitution, which limits a state's power to regulate elections. The court concluded that the plaintiffs had demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims, and that they would suffer irreparable harm without the injunction. The court also found that the balance of harms and the public interest favored the plaintiffs. View "Kim v. Hanlon" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a defendant, Davit Davitashvili, who was charged with violating federal law by transmitting threats to injure his ex-wife, Olga Volosevich, and other unnamed individuals. This was after a long history of abusive behavior towards Volosevich, culminating in threatening messages sent to her via the messaging app Viber. Davitashvili appealed his conviction, arguing that his threats towards unnamed individuals were constitutionally protected speech.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit disagreed with Davitashvili's claim. It noted that Davitashvili's threats towards "others" were not protected speech under the First Amendment, as they targeted particular individuals, supporting a conviction. The court pointed out that the jury instructions required the jury to find that Davitashvili’s communication threatened to "injure a person or a group of people," which accurately reflected the relevant federal law.As for the defendant's argument that his conviction was based on an invalid theory (threatening unspecified "others"), the court held that the jury likely would have convicted Davitashvili based on his threats to Volosevich alone, even if the "kill others" theory was excluded. The court concluded that the trial was error-free and affirmed the judgment of conviction. View "USA v. Davitashvili" on Justia Law

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In the case at hand, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims brought by a group of students and Children’s Health Defense, Inc. against Rutgers University. The plaintiffs challenged the university's COVID-19 vaccination policy, which required in-person students to be vaccinated or else enroll in online programs or seek exemptions for medical or religious reasons. The court found that the university's policy did not violate the plaintiffs' constitutional or statutory rights.The court held that there is no fundamental right to refuse vaccination. It applied the rational basis review and concluded that Rutgers University had a rational basis for its policy given the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the policy was ultra vires under New Jersey law, determining that Rutgers was authorized to require COVID-19 vaccinations under state law. Furthermore, the court dismissed the plaintiffs' equal protection claim, concluding that Rutgers had a rational basis for its differential treatment of students and staff, as well as vaccinated and unvaccinated students. View "Children's Health Defense Inc. v. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over the interpretation of the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004 (LEOSA), which allows certain qualified retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms, and its relation to New Jersey’s more restrictive retired police officer permitting law. The retired law enforcement officers from various agencies claimed that LEOSA provided them with a federal right to carry concealed firearms in New Jersey, superseding the state law. The State of New Jersey argued that LEOSA did not provide an enforceable right and, if it did, it would only apply to officers who retired from federal or out-of-state law enforcement agencies—not to officers who retired from New Jersey law enforcement agencies.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that LEOSA does provide certain retired officers who meet all the statutory requirements with an enforceable right, and that right extends equally to officers who retired from New Jersey agencies and those who retired from federal or out-of-state agencies. The court held that the federal statute also preempts contrary aspects of New Jersey law. Therefore, the court affirmed the District Court’s order granting declaratory and injunctive relief to the retired officers, allowing them to carry concealed firearms. View "Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, a group of former union members alleged that their First Amendment rights were violated when their respective unions continued to deduct membership dues from their paychecks after they had resigned from the unions. The appellants had previously signed union membership applications authorizing the deduction of dues from their paychecks, with the authorizations being irrevocable for a year, regardless of membership status, unless the member provided written notice of revocation within a specified annual window. The appellants resigned from their respective unions after their annual revocation windows had passed, and the unions continued to deduct dues until the next annual revocation window. The appellants argued that the Supreme Court's decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, which held that public-sector unions charging fees to nonmembers is a form of coerced speech that violates the First Amendment, should extend to their situation. The Third Circuit disagreed, holding that Janus was focused on preventing forced speech by nonmembers who never consented to join a union, not members who voluntarily join a union and later resign. The court further rejected the appellants' due process claims, finding that they had not been deprived of any constitutional rights. The court also dismissed the appellants' contract defenses, finding that they had not alleged that the terms of their original membership agreements entitled them to membership in perpetuity. The court affirmed the District Court's orders dismissing the appellants' claims. View "Fultz v. AFSCME" on Justia Law

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Appellant Gilroy St. Patrick Stewart was pulled over by Trooper George Tessitore for driving a vehicle with heavily tinted windows and a partially obstructed license plate, both violations of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had to determine whether the officer unconstitutionally prolonged the traffic stop, thereby violating Stewart's Fourth Amendment rights.Upon pulling over Stewart, Tessitore asked for his driver's license and the vehicle’s registration. Stewart produced an Ohio driver's license and a vehicle that was registered to a Hazel Sparkes of Baldwin, New York. Stewart claimed the vehicle belonged to his aunt. Tessitore then questioned Stewart about his travel plans. During the stop, Tessitore discovered that Stewart had a history of arrests, including a money laundering arrest made by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Tessitore also noted that Stewart was driving on I-80, a well-known drug trafficking corridor, and that there was an air freshener hanging from Stewart's rear-view mirror, often used to mask the smell of narcotics.Stewart was subsequently charged with possession of five kilograms or more of cocaine with intent to distribute, after 20 kilograms of cocaine were found in a hidden compartment in his vehicle. Stewart moved to suppress the cocaine as the fruit of an unlawful search, a motion that was denied by the District Court.Upon review, the Court of Appeals held that the officer had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity when he extended the length of the stop, due to a combination of factors including Stewart's evasive and inconsistent answers, the darkly tinted car windows, the car's registration to a third party, Stewart's prior arrests, his travel along a known drug corridor, and the air freshener in his vehicle. As such, the officer did not unconstitutionally prolong the traffic stop, and Stewart's Fourth Amendment rights were not violated. The Court affirmed the District Court’s order denying Stewart's motion to suppress evidence from the traffic stop. View "USA v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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In a case involving the Second Amendment rights of 18-to-20-year-olds in Pennsylvania, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that these individuals are included in "the people" whose right to bear arms is protected under the Second Amendment. The plaintiffs, including three individuals who were aged 18 to 20 when the case was filed, along with two gun rights organizations, challenged Pennsylvania's statutory scheme that effectively bans 18-to-20-year-olds from carrying firearms outside their homes during a state of emergency. The Court found that the term "the people" in the Second Amendment presumptively encompasses all adult Americans, including 18-to-20-year-olds, and there was no founding-era law that supported disarming this age group. The Court reversed the District Court's decision dismissing the case and denying the plaintiffs' request for preliminary injunctive relief, and remanded the case with instructions to enter an injunction forbidding the Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police from arresting law-abiding 18-to-20-year-olds who openly carry firearms during a state of emergency declared by the Commonwealth. View "Lara v. Commissioner PA State Police" on Justia Law

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This case involves Bradley Barlow, Frances Biddiscombe, and others who were members of either the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 668 or the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Council 13. They all signed union membership agreements authorizing the deduction of membership dues from their paychecks. The authorizations were irrevocable, regardless of union membership status, unless they provided written notice of revocation within a specified annual window. After resigning from their respective unions, their membership dues continued to be deducted until the next annual revocation window. They sued, claiming that the continued collection of dues after their resignations constitutes compelled speech, violating their First Amendment rights. They relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, which held that public-sector unions charging fees to nonmembers is a form of coerced speech that violates the First Amendment. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's dismissal of their complaints, holding that Janus was focused on nonmembers who never elected to join a union, not members who voluntarily join a union and later resign. The court also rejected their due process claims for failure to provide procedures for notice and the ability to object to how their dues were spent, as these procedures were based on avoiding subjecting nonconsenting individuals from subsidizing a political agenda, which was not the case for these appellants. The court also rejected the appellants' contract defenses. View "Barlow v. Service Employees International Union" on Justia Law

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A traffic stop conducted by Pennsylvania State Trooper Galen Clemons resulted in the arrest of Jamar Hunter after a loaded Glock-45 semi-automatic handgun was discovered in Hunter's waistband. This discovery followed a routine license and warrant check and an additional computerized criminal history check on Hunter and his passenger, Deshaun Davis. Hunter was later indicted for possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. Hunter moved to suppress the firearm evidence claiming that the computerized criminal history check extended the traffic stop beyond its constitutional authority.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted Hunter's motion to suppress. The court reasoned that the computerized criminal history check was unrelated to the traffic stop's mission and, without reasonable suspicion, prolonged the stop, therefore violating the Fourth Amendment.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the District Court’s decision, finding that the lower court had applied a subjective standard of review, thereby erring as a matter of law. The appellate court held that the criminal history check, which lasted approximately two minutes, was an objectively reasonable safety precaution related to the mission of the traffic stop under Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 348 (2015) and the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Appeals found the check to be a negligibly burdensome officer safety precaution that fell within the stop's mission. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "USA v. Hunter" on Justia Law