Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Native American Law
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Charles Williams was a Colorado prisoner who practiced a Native American religion that used tobacco in sweat lodges. The ceremonies were possible because prison officials specified where inmates could use tobacco in religious services. In 2018, prison officials confiscated tobacco from a prisoner and suspected that it had come from Williams’s religious group. Prison officials responded with a 30-day ban on the use of tobacco for religious services. Weeks later, prison officials imposed a lockdown and modified operations, including an indefinite suspension of Native American religious services. Despite this suspension, prison officials allowed Christian and Islamic groups to continue their religious services because outside volunteers could provide supervision. The complaint implied that the suspension lasted at least nine days. Williams sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging in part that prison officials violated the First Amendment. The defendants moved to dismiss, asserting qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion on the ground that Williams’s allegations had overcome qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit concurred: because Williams adequately alleged the violation of a clearly established constitutional right, he has overcome qualified immunity. So the denial of the defendants’ motion to dismiss was affirmed. View "Williams v. Borrego" on Justia Law

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Appellant Iris Stacy (Mother) sought certiorari review of an unpublished opinion by the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals (COCA) that affirmed the trial court's judgment terminating her parental rights to I.T.S., I.M.S., and R.E.S. (Children). At issue was the trial court's sua sponte discharge of Mother's court-appointed counsel at the conclusion of the disposition hearing, which left her without representation until State filed its petition to terminate her parental rights over two years later. She argued the trial court's failure to provide her legal representation between the disposition and the filing of the petition to terminate her parental rights (a period of 798 days) was contrary to the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted her petition to address a question of first impression: Upon request by an Indian child's parent for counsel in a deprived child proceeding, and a finding of indigency, whether the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) required court-appointed counsel for the parent at all stages of the deprived child proceeding. The Supreme Court held that section 1912(b) of ICWA required, upon request and a finding of indigency, the appointment of counsel at all stages of the deprived child proceeding. View "In the Matter of I.T.S." on Justia Law

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In this case, the en banc court considered the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901 et seq., and the validity of implementing regulations promulgated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in its 2016 Final Rule (Final Rule). The district court granted plaintiffs summary judgment in part, declaring that the ICWA and the Final Rule contravene multiple constitutional provisions and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). After defendants appealed, a panel of this court reversed and rendered judgment for defendants. The en banc court then reconsidered the case.The en banc court unanimously held that at least one plaintiff has standing to challenge Congress's authority under Article I of the Constitution to enact ICWA and to press anticommandeering and nondelegation challenges to specific ICWA provisions, and that plaintiffs have standing to challenge the Final Rule as unlawful under the APA. The en banc court is equally divided as to whether plaintiffs have standing to challenge two provisions of ICWA, 25 U.S.C. 1913 and 1914, on equal protection grounds, and the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs can assert this claim is therefore affirmed without a precedential opinion. An en banc majority also held that plaintiffs have standing to assert their equal protection challenges to other provisions of ICWA.On the merits, the en banc majority agrees that, as a general proposition, Congress had the authority to enact ICWA under Article I of the Constitution, and that the ICWA's "Indian child" classification does not violate equal protection. The en banc court is equally divided, however, as to whether plaintiffs prevail on their equal protection challenge to ICWA's adoptive placement preference for "other Indian families," and its foster care placement preference for a licensed "Indian foster home." An en banc majority held that ICWA's "active efforts," section 1912(d), expert witness, section 1912(e) and (f), and recordkeeping requirements, section 1915(e), unconstitutionally commandeer state actors. However, the en banc court is equally divided on whether the placement preferences, section 1915(a)–(b), violate anticommandeering to the extent they direct action by state agencies and officials; on whether the notice provision, section 1912(a), unconstitutionally commandeers state agencies; and on whether the placement record provision, section 1951(a), unconstitutionally commandeers state courts.Furthermore, an en banc majority held that several challenged ICWA provisions validly preempt state law and so do not commandeer states, and that section 1915(c) does not violate the non-delegation doctrine. Finally, an en banc majority held that the BIA did not violate the APA by concluding in the Final Rule that it may issue regulations binding on state courts. However, an en banc majority also held that the Final Rule violated the APA to the extent it implemented these unconstitutional provisions and that 25 C.F.R. 23.132(b) violated the APA. An en banc majority held that the Final Rule did not violate the APA in any other respect. Accordingly, the en banc court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and rendered judgment accordingly. View "Brackeen v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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In late August 2020, Yazzie initiated an action challenging Arizona's Receipt Deadline pursuant to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, and the Arizona Constitution's election clause. The complaint alleges that Navajo Nation reservation residents face myriad challenges to voting by mail where many on-reservation members do not have home mail service. Rather, to receive or send mail, they must travel to a post office. Furthermore, socioeconomic factors, educational disadvantages, and language barriers make both the travel to the post office—which requires access to a car—and the completion of mail ballots difficult. Yazzie also claims that these mail ballots take disproportionately longer to reach the county recorder's office because of the slower mail service on the reservation. In late September 2020, the district court denied Yazzie's motion for preliminary injunction based on its finding that Yazzie did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits or raise serious questions going to the merits of Yazzie's VRA claim.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Yazzie's request for a preliminary injunction. The panel did not address the district court's analysis of the VRA claim because it concluded that Yazzie and the other plaintiffs lack standing. The panel stated that not only does Yazzie fail to make a clear showing of a concrete and particularized injury, noticeably absent in the record is any particularized allegation with respect to any of the six individual plaintiffs. The panel also stated that, importantly, this case is not a putative class action filed on behalf of the Navajo Nation members who reside on the reservation. In this case, Yazzie failed to establish injury-in-fact for at least one of the individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The panel concluded that also missing is a clear showing that the alleged injury is redressable by a favorable decision by this court. View "Yazzie v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

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Members of the Tribe filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of various federal statutory and constitutional rights, stemming from traffic citations issued to members of the Tribe from a sheriff's deputy inside the boundaries of the Chemehuevi Reservation. The district court subsequently granted summary judgment to defendants.The panel held that the Chemehuevi Reservation includes Section 36, and that Section 36 is Indian country. Therefore, the County does not have jurisdiction to enforce California regulatory laws within it. Furthermore, the panel held that the individual members have a cause of action under section 1983 against defendants. However, the Tribe cannot assert its sovereign rights under the statute. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded in part. View "Chemehuevi Indian Tribe v. McMahon" on Justia Law

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Texas, Indiana, and Louisiana, and seven individuals seeking to adopt Indian children filed suit against the United States, several federal agencies and officials, and five intervening Tribes, raising facial constitutional challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and statutory and constitutional challenges to the 2016 administrative rule (the Final Rule) that was promulgated by the Department of the Interior to clarify provisions of ICWA.The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiffs had standing to bring all claims; the ICWA and the Final Rule are constitutional because they are based on a political classification that is rationally related to the fulfillment of Congress's unique obligation toward Indians; ICWA preempts conflicting state laws and does not violate the Tenth Amendment anticommandeering doctrine; and ICWA and the Final Rule do not violate the nondelegation doctrine. The court also held that the Final Rule implementing the ICWA is valid because the ICWA is constitutional, the BIA did not exceed its authority when it issued the Final Rule, and the agency's interpretation of ICWA section 1915 is reasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and rendered judgment in favor of defendants on all claims. View "Brackeen v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order refusing to compel the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs to place the Aqua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians on a list of federally recognized tribes published in the Federal Register.The panel held that the Tribe failed to exhaust the regulatory process under 25 C.F.R. 83 to obtain federal recognition. Instead, the Tribe argued that the Part 83 process did not apply because they sought "correction" of the list, not recognition. However, the panel held that framing the issue as one of "correction" was unsupported by the applicable regulations and case law. In regard to the Tribe's equal protection and Administrative Procedure Act claims, the panel held that Interior had a rational basis for not making an exception to the Part 83 process for the Tribe. The panel concluded that it was rational for the Interior to ask the Tribe to demonstrate through the Part 83 process how they are a "distinct Community" from the Pala Band of Mission Indians and "politically autonomous" so that Interior may make the federal-recognition determination, and Interior's explanation for treating the Tribe differently from other tribes passed muster. View "Agua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians of the Pala Reservation v. Sweeney" on Justia Law

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Six Native American plaintiffs filed suit challenging portions of North Dakota's election statutes, requiring a voter to present a specific form of identification at the polls before receiving a ballot. The district court enjoined the Secretary from enforcing certain statutory requirements statewide.The Eighth Circuit held that at least one of the plaintiffs had standing to raise a facial challenge to the statute. On the merits, the court held that plaintiffs' facial challenge to the residential street address requirement likely fails, and that the statewide injunction as to that provision cannot be justified as a form of as-applied relief; the statute's requirement to present an enumerated form of identification does not impose a burden on voters that justifies a statewide injunction to accept additional forms of identification; and the record is insufficient to justify enjoining the Secretary from enforcing the supplemental documents provision statewide. Accordingly, the court vacated the preliminary injunction and remanded for further proceedings. View "Brakebill v. Jaeger" on Justia Law

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In this case governed by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court to terminate Father’s rights to his minor child (Child), holding that Father’s contentions on appeal were unavailing.Specifically, the Court held (1) Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services provided the active efforts required under 25 U.S.C. 1912(d) to prevent the breakup of an Indian family; (2) Father did not establish that the Child was placed in a foster home in violation of the placement preferences set forth in 25 U.S.C. 1915; and (3) Father’s attorney did not provide ineffective assistance of counsel. View "In re A.L.D." on Justia Law

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Officials of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (the Department) challenged the trial court's order granting a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by Gregory Rhoades, a Native American prisoner incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison (Calipatria). In granting Rhoades's petition, the trial court concluded that the prohibition on the use of straight tobacco during prisoners' Native American religious ceremonies violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) and it ordered the California Department of Corrections to "formulate and implement policies permitting and reasonably regulating the possession and use of straight tobacco" during those ceremonies. The Court of Appeals concluded the trial court improperly granted relief in favor of Rhoades without holding an evidentiary hearing on disputed factual issues, and reversed and remanded matter with directions that the trial court hold an evidentiary hearing. View "In re Rhoades" on Justia Law