Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Supreme Court
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The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) provides for the expedited removal of certain “applicants” seeking admission into the U.S., 8 U.S.C. 1225(a)(1). An applicant may avoid expedited removal by demonstrating a “credible fear of persecution,” meaning “a significant possibility . . . that the alien could establish eligibility for asylum.” An applicant who makes this showing is entitled to a standard removal hearing. An asylum officer’s rejection of a credible-fear claim is reviewed by a supervisor and may then be appealed to an immigration judge. IIRIRA limits habeas corpus review; courts may not review “the determination” that an applicant lacks a credible fear of persecution. Thuraissigiam, a Sri Lankan national, was stopped immediately after crossing the southern border without inspection or an entry document. He was detained for expedited removal. An asylum officer's rejection of his credible-fear claim was affirmed. Thuraissigiam filed a federal habeas petition, requesting a new opportunity to apply for asylum. The Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Thuraissigiam’s favor. As applied here, Section 1252(e)(2) does not violate the Suspension Clause, which provides that “[t]he Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” Art. I, section 9, cl. 2. At a minimum, the Clause “protects the writ as it existed in 1789.” Habeas has traditionally provided a means to seek release from unlawful detention. Thuraissigiam does not seek release from custody, but an additional opportunity to obtain asylum. His claims fall outside the scope of the writ as it existed when the Constitution was adopted. As applied here, Section 1252(e)(2) does not violate the Due Process Clause. For aliens seeking initial entry, the decisions of executive or administrative officers, acting within powers expressly conferred by Congress, are due process of law. An alien who is detained shortly after unlawful entry cannot be said to have “effected an entry.” An alien in Thuraissigiam’s position has only those rights regarding admission that are provided by statute. View "Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam" on Justia Law

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Andrus was six years old, his mother sold drugs out of their apartment. She turned to prostitution and regularly left her five children to binge on drugs. She often was high and had drug-addicted, sometimes violent, boyfriends. When Andrus was 16, he served as a lookout while others committed a robbery. During 18 months in juvenile detention, he was exposed to gangs, drugs, and extended solitary confinement, resulting in suicidal urges. In 2008, Andrus, then 20, attempted a carjacking while under the influence of PCP-laced marijuana. Andrus fired multiple shots, killing two people. At his capital murder trial, Andrus’ defense counsel declined to present an opening statement or evidence. In his closing argument, counsel conceded Andrus’ guilt. The jury found Andrus guilty of capital murder. During the punishment phase, the prosecution presented evidence of Andrus' aggressive behavior in juvenile detention; that Andrus had gang tattoos; that Andrus had hit, kicked, and thrown excrement at prison officials while awaiting trial; and that Andrus was involved in an aggravated robbery. Counsel raised no material objections. In mitigation, counsel focused on Andrus’ basic biographical information, without revealing the circumstances of Andrus’ childhood; the only expert witness focused on the general effects of drug use on adolescent brains. A prison counselor testified that Andrus “started having remorse.” Andrus testified about his childhood. The jury sentenced Andrus to death. In Andrus’ state habeas proceeding, Andrus’ life history came to light. Andrus’ counsel offered no reason for failing to investigate Andrus’ history. The trial court recommended a new sentencing proceeding. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated. Andrus demonstrated counsel’s deficient performance under Strickland, but the Court of Criminal Appeals may have failed properly to engage with the question of whether Andrus established that counsel’s deficient performance prejudiced him. View "Andrus v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Three employers each fired a long-time employee for being homosexual or transgender. Each employee sued, alleging sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it “unlawful . . . for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” 42 U.S.C. 2000e–2(a)(1). The Eleventh Circuit held that the suit could be dismissed. The Second and Sixth Circuits allowed the claims to proceed. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the employees. An employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires an individual employee based in part on sex regardless of whether other factors besides the plaintiff's sex contributed to the decision or whether the employer treated women as a group the same when compared to men as a group. Discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex. It is irrelevant what an employer or others might call the discriminatory practice; that another factor, such as the plaintiff’s attraction to the same sex or presentation as a different sex from that assigned at birth, might play an important role in the employer’s decision; or that an employer could refuse to hire a gay or transgender individual without learning that person’s sex. The Court rejected arguments that homosexuality and transgender status are distinct concepts from sex and that a stricter causation test should apply because the policies at issue have the same adverse consequences for men and women. Legislative history has no bearing where no ambiguity exists about how Title VII’s terms apply to the facts. View "Bostock v. Clayton County" on Justia Law

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The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) established the three-strikes rule, which generally prevents a prisoner from bringing suit in forma pauperis (IFP) if he has had three or more prior suits dismissed on the grounds that they were frivolous, malicious, or failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. 1915(g). Colorado inmate Lomax sued prison officials to challenge his expulsion from the facility’s sex-offender treatment program and moved for IFP status. He had already brought three unsuccessful legal actions during his time in prison. The district court and Tenth Circuit rejected Lomax’s argument that two of the dismissals should not count as strikes because they were without prejudice. The Supreme Court affirmed. Section 1915(g)’s three-strikes provision refers to any dismissal for failure to state a claim, whether with prejudice or without. A Section 1915(g) strike-call hinges exclusively on the basis for the dismissal, regardless of the decision’s prejudicial effect. Courts can and sometimes do dismiss frivolous actions without prejudice. View "Lomax v. Ortiz-Marquez" on Justia Law

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Banister was convicted by a Texas court of aggravated assault and sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment. After exhausting his state remedies, he unsuccessfully sought federal habeas relief. Banister timely filed a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), which allows a litigant to file a motion to alter or amend a district court’s judgment within 28 days from the entry of judgment, with no possibility of an extension. That motion was denied. Banister filed a notice of appeal in accordance with the timeline for appealing a judgment after a Rule 59(e) denial. A timely Rule 59 motion suspends the finality of the original judgment for purposes of appeal. The Fifth Circuit construed Banister’s Rule 59(e) motion as a successive habeas petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. 2244(b), and dismissed his appeal as untimely. The Supreme Court reversed Because a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend a habeas court’s judgment is not a second or successive habeas petition, Banister’s appeal was timely. The phrase “second or successive application” does not simply refer to all habeas filings made successively in time, following an initial application. Rule 59(e) applies in habeas proceedings, deriving from courts’ common-law power to alter or amend their own judgments before any appeal. The purposes of AEDPA--reducing delay, conserving judicial resources, and promoting finality--are served by Rule 59(e), which offers a narrow window to seek relief; limits requests for reconsideration to matters properly raised in the challenged judgment; and consolidates proceedings into a single final judgment for appeal. View "Banister v. Davis" on Justia Law

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The petitioners challenged a New York City rule regarding the transport of firearms, citing the Second Amendment, and seeking declaratory relief against enforcement of the rule insofar as it prevented their transport of firearms to a second home or shooting range outside of the city. The Second Circuit rejected their claim. After the Supreme Court granted certiorari, the State of New York amended its firearm licensing statute and the City amended the rule so that the petitioners may now transport firearms to a second home or shooting range outside of the city. The Supreme Court vacated. The petitioners’ claim for declaratory relief with respect to the old rule is moot but they claimed that the new rule may still infringe their rights; they may not be allowed to stop for coffee, gas, food, or restroom breaks on the way to their second homes or shooting ranges outside of the city. The Court declined to address the argument, citing its practice of vacating and remanding where the mootness is attributable to a change in the legal framework governing the case, and where the plaintiff may have some residual claim under the new framework that was understandably not asserted previously. On remand, the Second Circuit and the district court may consider the new arguments and whether the petitioners still add a claim for damages with respect to the old rule. View "New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. City of New York" on Justia Law

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In 48 states and in federal court, a single juror’s vote to acquit is enough to prevent a conviction; Louisiana and Oregon punish people based on 10-to-2 verdicts. Ramos was convicted in a Louisiana court by a 10-to-2 jury verdict and was sentenced to life without parole. The Supreme Court reversed. The Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, as incorporated against the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, requires a unanimous verdict to convict a defendant of a serious offense. Juror unanimity is a vital common law right. The Court rejected an “invitation” to “perform a cost-benefit analysis on the historic features of common law jury trials and to conclude that unanimity does not make the cut.” In overturning its 1972 “Apodaca” decision, the Court stated that the reasoning, in that case, was “gravely mistaken” and “sits uneasily with 120 years of preceding case law.” The fact that Louisiana and Oregon may need to retry defendants convicted of felonies by non-unanimous verdicts whose cases are still pending on direct appeal “will surely impose a cost, but new rules of criminal procedure usually do.” View "Ramos v. Louisiana" on Justia Law

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To slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wisconsin’s Governor ordered Wisconsinites to stay at home until April 24. An unprecedented number of voters requested absentee ballots for the state’s spring election, resulting in a severe backlog of ballots not promptly mailed to voters. Plaintiffs, including the Democratic party, sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission and, on April 2, obtained a preliminary injunction that extended the deadline for voters to request absentee ballots and extended the deadline for election officials to receive completed absentee ballots. On the day before the April 7 election, the Supreme Court stayed the preliminary injunction to the extent it required Wisconsin to count absentee ballots postmarked after April 7. The Court declined to address “the wisdom of” proceeding with the scheduled election, opting to answer “a narrow, technical question.” While the deadline for the municipal clerks to receive absentee ballots is extended to April 13, those ballots must be mailed and postmarked by election day. The plaintiffs had not asked that the court allow ballots postmarked after election day to be counted; the court unilaterally ordered that such ballots be counted if received by April 13. That extension would fundamentally alter the nature of the election and would afford relief that the plaintiffs did not seek. In its order enjoining the public release of any election results for six days after election day, the district court essentially enjoined nonparties. The Court noted no evidence that voters who requested absentee ballots at the last minute would be in a substantially different position from late-requesting voters in other Wisconsin elections with respect to receiving ballots; the deadline for receiving ballots was extended to ensure that their votes count. The Court declined to express an opinion on whether other election procedure modifications are appropriate in light of COVID–19. View "Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee" on Justia Law

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A deputy ran a license plate check and discovered that the truck belonged to Glover, whose driver’s license had been revoked. The deputy stopped the truck, assuming that Glover was driving. Glover was driving and was charged with driving as a habitual violator. The trial court granted his motion to suppress all evidence from the stop. The Kansas Supreme Court agreed that the deputy violated the Fourth Amendment by stopping Glover without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The Supreme Court reversed. When the officer lacks information negating an inference that the owner is driving the vehicle, an investigative traffic stop made after running a vehicle’s license plate and learning that the registered owner’s driver’s license has been revoked is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. An officer may initiate a brief investigative traffic stop when he has “a particularized and objective basis” to suspect wrongdoing. The level of suspicion required is less than necessary for probable cause and depends on “the factual and practical considerations of everyday life.” The deputy’s common sense inference that the owner of a vehicle was likely its driver provided reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop. Empirical studies demonstrate that drivers with suspended or revoked licenses frequently continue to drive. Officers, like jurors, may rely on probabilities in the reasonable suspicion context. The presence of additional facts might dispel reasonable suspicion but this deputy possessed no information to rebut the reasonable inference that Glover was driving his own truck. View "Kansas v. Glover" on Justia Law

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Aliens who lived in the U.S. committed drug crimes and were ordered removed. Neither moved to reopen his removal proceedings within 90 days, 8 U.S.C. 1229a(c)(7)(C)(i). Each later unsuccessfully asked the Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen their removal proceedings, arguing equitable tolling. Both had become eligible for discretionary relief based on judicial and Board decisions years after their removal. The Fifth Circuit denied their requests for review, holding that under the Limited Review Provision, 8 U.S.C. 1252(a)(2)(D), it could consider only only “constitutional claims or questions of law.” The Supreme Court vacated. The Provision’s phrase “questions of law” includes the application of a legal standard to undisputed or established facts. The Fifth Circuit had jurisdiction to consider claims of due diligence for equitable tolling purposes. A strong presumption favors judicial review of administrative action and a contrary interpretation of “questions of law” would result in a barrier to meaningful judicial review. The Provision’s statutory context, history, and precedent contradict the government’s claim that “questions of law” excludes the application of the law to settled facts. Congress has consolidated virtually all review of removal orders in one proceeding in the courts of appeals; the statutory history suggests it sought an “adequate substitute” for habeas review. If “questions of law” in the Provision does not include the misapplication of a legal standard to undisputed facts, then review would not include an element that was traditionally reviewable in habeas proceedings. View "Guerrero-Lasprilla v. Barr" on Justia Law