Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Military Law
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Appellants, three Sikh men, intended to join the Marines. However, existing Marines pre-enlistment requirements pertaining to hair length, beards, and a prohibition on wearing certain non-uniform items, conflicted with their faith. The Marines allowed an accommodation, but only after the men completed basic training.Appellants sought a preliminary injunction, and the district court refused. After considering the competing interests in the case, the D.C. Circuit reversed the decision as it related to two men, finding that they showed a likelihood for success on the merits and proved irreparable harm. The court remanded the third man's case for further proceedings. View "Jaskirat Singh v. David Berger" on Justia Law

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The Air Force ordered over 500,000 service members to get COVID-19 vaccinations. About 10,000 members requested religious exemptions; about 135 of these requests were granted, only to those planning to leave the service. It has granted thousands of exemptions for medical or administrative reasons. The Plaintiffs allege that the vaccine mandate substantially burdens their religious exercise in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The district court granted a preliminary injunction that barred the Air Force from disciplining the Plaintiffs for failing to take a vaccine, then certified a class of thousands of similar service members and extended this injunction to the class.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. In opposing class-action certification, the Air Force argued that RFRA adopts an individual-by-individual approach: it must show that it has a compelling interest in requiring a “specific” individual to get vaccinated based on that person’s specific duties. In challenging the injunction, however, the Air Force failed to identify the specific duties or working conditions of any Plaintiff, citing the “general interests” underlying the mandate. The court reasoned that it could uphold the injunction based on RFRA alone but also noted common questions for the class: Does the Air Force have a uniform policy of relying on its generalized interests in the vaccine mandate to deny religious exemptions regardless of individual circumstances? Does it have a discriminatory policy of broadly denying religious exemptions but broadly granting secular ones? View "Doster v. Kendall" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied defendants' motion for a partial stay of the district court's preliminary injunction enjoining the Department of Defense, United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and United States Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro from enforcing certain COVID-19 vaccination requirements against 35 Navy special warfare personnel and prohibiting any adverse actions based on their religious accommodation requests. Specifically, defendants seek a partial stay pending appeal insofar as the injunction precludes them from considering plaintiffs' vaccination statuses "in making deployment, assignment and other operational decisions."The court weighed the Mindes abstention factors and determined that this dispute is justiciable. However, the court concluded that defendants have not carried their burden to warrant the issuance of the stay. The court agreed with the district court that defendants have not shown a compelling interest to deny religious accommodations under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to each of the 35 plaintiffs at issue. Rather, the "marginal interest" in vaccinating each plaintiff appears to be negligible and thus defendants lack a sufficiently compelling interest to vaccinate plaintiffs. The court also concluded that the preliminary injunction does not irreparably damage the Navy and the public; partially staying the preliminary injunction pending appeal would substantially harm plaintiffs; and issuance of the requested stay would disserve the public interest. View "U.S. Navy SEALs 1-26 v. Biden" on Justia Law

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In 1982, a court-martial convicted Hubbard of murder and sentenced him to life in prison. He previously filed unsuccessful federal habeas petitions and, in 2019, sought DNA testing under the Innocence Protection Act (IPA), 18 U.S.C. 3600(a), to prove his innocence.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court was not the court that entered the judgment of conviction; Hubbard’s conviction was entered by a general court-martial, which has since dissolved, not in federal court. The court rejected Hubbard’s contentions that the district court had the power to grant his petition for DNA testing under the IPA or that the IPA should nonetheless be construed to allow him to petition for DNA testing in the district court because he would otherwise have no forum in which to seek his relief. The IPA, unlike the federal habeas statutes, does not provide a procedural mechanism for prisoners convicted by courts-martial to seek collateral relief in federal court. View "Hubbard v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's grant of the government's motion to dismiss and, in the alternative, for summary judgment, on plaintiff's claims that the cadet separation procedures of the United States Military Academy at West Point fail to provide due process and that plaintiff's separation proceedings violated West Point's own regulations in a manner that substantially prejudiced him.The Second Circuit affirmed, concluding that West Point's cadet separation procedures satisfy due process and that the intra military immunity doctrine, which bars judicial interference in discretionary military personnel decisions, renders plaintiff's regulatory claims nonjusticiable. The court explained that plaintiff was not substantially prejudiced by any purported regulatory deviation and the court may not circumvent the doctrine to engage in a fact-specific inquiry as to whether military personnel properly applied the military's own evidentiary standard. View "Doolen v. Wormuth" on Justia Law

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A military commission was convened to try al-Tamir, apprehended in Turkey in 2006 and held at Guantanamo Bay for seven years without charges, for war crimes. Captain Waits presided over al-Tamir’s commission for two and a half years. A DOJ prosecutor was the first attorney to speak on the record. Weeks later, Waits applied to be a DOJ immigration judge. In his applications, he identified the al-Tamir commission. He received no interviews. In 2017, Waits was hired by the Department of Defense's Navy Office of the Judge Advocate General Criminal Law Division, after again mentioning his role in the commission.In 2019, the D.C. Circuit held that a military judge’s application for an immigration judge position created an appearance of bias requiring recusal, Waits disclosed his employment applications to al-Tamir and the commission. Rubin and Libretto later served on al-Tamir’s commission, Blackwood was a civilian advisor for all three judges and applied for outside employment while assisting Rubin. Libretto denied al-Tamir's motions to dismiss based on Waits’s and Blackwood’s job applications and to disqualify Libretto based on Blackwood’s continued assistance. Libretto declared that he would reconsider any of Waits’s decisions that al-Tamir identifies. The Court of Military Commission Review upheld that decision. The D.C. Circuit denied mandamus relief. The government’s offer affords al-Tamir an “adequate means” to attain the relief he seeks; Blackwood’s job search did not “clear[ly] and indisputabl[y]” disqualify the judges he served. View "In re: al-Tamir" on Justia Law

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After the DEA terminated Darek and Lisa Kitlinski's employment based on their refusal to participate in an internal investigation into their own allegations of misconduct by the DEA, the Kitlinskis alleged that the DEA terminated Darek in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), and that the DEA terminated Lisa in retaliation for her support of Darek’s USERRA claims against the DEA. The Kitlinskis also claim that the DEA retaliated against them for their prior protected activity in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the DEA, concluding that the Kitlinskis offer no evidence that Darek's military service or his prior USERRA-protected activity was a motivating factor in his termination. Furthermore, even assuming that Armstrong v. Index Journal Co., 647 F.2d 441, 448 (4th Cir. 1981), applies here, the court has little difficulty concluding that the DEA's interest in ensuring its employees' full participation in internal investigations outweighs any interest Lisa had in promoting USERRA's nondiscriminatory purpose. The court also concluded that no reasonable factfinder could conclude that the DEA terminated the Kitlinskis' employment in retaliation for engaging in protected activity. The court explained that the Kitlinskis offer no evidence showing that the DEA terminated their employment for any reason other than their conduct during the OPR investigation. The court rejected the Kitlinskis' remaining claims. View "Kitlinski v. Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of habeas relief to petitioner, who is challenging his 2012 court-martial conviction for one count of aggravated sexual assault and two counts of wrongful sexual conduct. In United States v. Hills, 75 M.J. 350 (C.A.A.F.2016), which was decided after petitioner's conviction became final, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces held unconstitutional a pattern jury instruction on Military Rule of Evidence (M.R.E.) 413 under which jurors may consider evidence of any one charged sexual offense as showing the defendant's propensity to have committed any of the other charged sexual offenses.Although Hills announced a new rule which held that the use of charged sexual offenses to show propensity to commit other charged sexual offenses violated the presumption of innocence and right to have all findings made clearly beyond a reasonable doubt, as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment, the panel held that the rule does not fall under either exception for nonretroactivity because it is neither a substantive rule nor a watershed rule of criminal procedure implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding. Therefore, Hills does not apply retroactively in petitioner's case. View "Lewis v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the Government, alleging that the male-only military draft unlawfully discriminates based on sex. The Military Selective Service Act requires essentially all male citizens and immigrants between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six to register with the Selective Service System. The district court granted plaintiffs declaratory judgment and held that requiring only men to register for the draft violated their Fifth Amendment rights.The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court's judgment directly contradicts the Supreme Court's holding in Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U.S. 57, 78–79 (1981). In Rostker, the Supreme Court held that the male-only Selective Service registration requirement did not offend due process where women at the time were barred from combat. The court explained that here, as in State Oil Co. v. Khan, 522 U.S. 3, 22 (1997), the factual underpinning of the controlling Supreme Court decision has changed, but that does not grant a court of appeals license to disregard or overrule that precedent. Accordingly, the court dismissed the case. View "National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System" on Justia Law

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Jackson served in the Marine Corps, 1977-1991. Almost 30 years after his honorable discharge, Jackson filed a pro se complaint alleging that toward the end of his military career, his supervising officers discriminated against him because he is a black male, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court inferred additional claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A), and the Military Pay Act, 37 U.S.C. 204 but ultimately dismissed all of Jackson’s claims. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. The court noted the unanimous rulings of other sister circuits, concluding that Title VII does not apply to uniformed members of the armed forces. Jackson’s APA claim was untimely and, although the limitations period is no longer considered jurisdictional, the facts alleged were insufficient to apply equitable tolling. Jackson was able to manage his affairs and comprehend his rights; he alleged that at the time of the alleged discrimination, he knew that he “had been subjected to wrongdoing and strongly desired justice.” The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to review the dismissal of Jackson’s Military Pay Act claim; the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction of such claims. View "Jackson v. Modly" on Justia Law