Articles Posted in US Supreme Court

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In April 2013, Escondido police responded to a 911 call from Emmons about domestic violence at the apartment where she lived with her husband, her children, and a roommate, Douglas. The officers arrested her husband. He was later released. In May 2013, Escondido police received a 911 call, from Douglas’s mother (Trina) about another disturbance at Emmons’ apartment. Trina had been on the phone with her daughter, who was at the apartment. Trina heard her daughter and Emmons yelling and heard Douglas screaming for help before the call disconnected. Officers Houchin and Craig responded, having been notified that children could be present and that calls to the apartment had gone unanswered. There is a body-camera video of the response. No one answered the door. Officers spoke with Emmons through an open window. A man in the apartment told Emmons to back away from the window. Sergeant Toth and two officers arrived as backup. Minutes later, a man opened the door and came outside. Officer Craig said not to close the door. The man closed the door and tried to brush past Craig, who took the man quickly to the ground and handcuffed him without hitting the man or displaying any weapon. The man was not in observable pain. Within minutes, officers helped him up and arrested him for misdemeanor resisting and delaying a police officer. The man, Emmons’ father, Marty, sued under 42 U. S. C. 1983, claiming excessive force. The Ninth Circuit agreed that the officers had probable cause to arrest Marty but remanded the excessive force claims. The Supreme Court reversed as to Toth and vacated as to Craig. The decision concerning Toth was “quite puzzling” in light of the district court’s conclusion that only Craig was involved in the excessive force claim. As to Craig, it does not suffice for a court simply to state that an officer may not use unreasonable and excessive force, deny qualified immunity, and then remand for a trial on the question of reasonableness. An officer cannot be said to have violated a clearly established right unless the right’s contours were sufficiently definite that any reasonable official in the defendant’s shoes would have understood that he was violating it. The Ninth Circuit’s formulation of the clearly established right was far too general; the court made no effort to explain how case law prohibited Craig’s actions in this case. View "Escondido v. Emmons" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit held that Hill, who was sentenced to death in 1986, was entitled to habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254(d)(1) because the decisions of the Ohio courts concluding that he is not intellectually disabled were contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent. The court relied on the 2017 Supreme Court decision, Moore v. Texas. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded so that Hill’s intellectual disability claim can be evaluated based solely on holdings that were clearly established at the relevant time. The Court rejected the Sixth Circuit reasoning “that Moore’s holding regarding adaptive strengths [was] merely an application of what was clearly established by” the Court’s 2002 decision, Atkins v. Virginia. In 2008, when the Ohio Court of Appeals rejected Hill’s claim, Atkins had not provided any comprehensive definition of “mental retardation” for Eighth Amendment purposes. While Atkins noted that standard definitions of mental retardation included as a necessary element “significant limitations in adaptive skills . . . that became manifest before age 18,” Atkins did not definitively resolve how that element was to be evaluated but instead left its application in the first instance to the states. The Moore majority primarily relied on medical literature that postdated the Ohio courts’ decisions. View "Shoop v. Hill" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs alleged that the Mount Lemmon Arizona Fire District terminated their employment as firefighters in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The District responded that it was too small to qualify as an “employer” under the ADEA, which provides that “‘employer’ means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees . . . . The term also means (1) any agent of such a person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State” 29 U.S.C. 630(b). The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Section 630’s two-sentence delineation and the expression “also means” establish separate categories: persons engaged in an industry affecting commerce with 20 or more employees and states or political subdivisions with no attendant numerosity limitation. Reading section 630(b) to apply to states and political subdivisions regardless of size gives the ADEA broader reach than Title VII, but this disparity is a consequence of the different language Congress chose to employ. The Court noted that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has, for 30 years, interpreted the ADEA to cover political subdivisions regardless of size, and a majority of the states impose age discrimination proscriptions on political subdivisions with no numerical threshold. View "Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido" on Justia Law

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Sause, pro se, filed suit (42 U.S.C. 1983) against Louisburg, Kansas, police officers, the current mayor, and a former mayor, alleging that officers visited her apartment in response to a noise complaint, gained admittance, and engaged in abusive conduct before citing her for disorderly conduct and interfering with law enforcement. She alleged that at one point she knelt and began to pray but an officer ordered her to stop; another officer refused to investigate her complaint that she had been assaulted by residents of her apartment complex and threatened to issue a citation if she reported this to another police department; that the police chief failed to investigate the officers’ conduct; and that the mayors were aware of unlawful conduct by police officers. She asserted a violation of her First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion and her Fourth Amendment right to be free of any unreasonable search or seizure. The Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal, citing qualified immunity. The Supreme Court reversed. The First Amendment protects the right to pray but there are circumstances in which an officer may lawfully prevent a person from praying. Here, the officer’s order to stop praying allegedly occurred during the course of investigative conduct that implicates Fourth Amendment rights; the First and Fourth Amendment issues are inextricable. It is unclear whether the officers were in Sause’s apartment based on her consent or had some other ground consistent with the Fourth Amendment, or whether their entry or continued presence was unlawful. Nor does her complaint state what the officers wanted her to do when she was allegedly told to stop praying. Without these answers, it is impossible to analyze Sause’s free exercise claim. Although Sause raised only a First Amendment argument on appeal, that claim and the issue of qualified immunity demanded consideration of the ground on which the officers were present and any legitimate law enforcement interests that might have justified an order to stop praying. View "Sause v. Bauer" on Justia Law

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North Carolina redistricted state legislative districts. Plaintiffs alleged that the General Assembly racially gerrymandered their districts in an ostensible effort to comply with the Voting Rights Act; 28 districts comprised majorities of black voters. The Supreme Court affirmed judgment for the plaintiffs but vacated the district court’s remedial order, which directed the General Assembly to adopt new districting maps, shortened by one year the terms of the legislators currently serving the gerrymandered districts, called for special elections in those districts, and suspended two provisions of the state Constitution. On remand, the district court ordered the General Assembly to draw remedial maps. The General Assembly complied, directing its map drawers to make “[r]easonable efforts . . . to avoid pairing incumbent members” and not to use “[d]ata identifying the race of individuals or voters.” The plaintiffs argued that four legislative districts still segregated voters on the basis of race and objected to redrawing five districts in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties, which did not violate the Constitution, and did not abut a district violating the Constitution, so that the revision of the borders constituted mid-decade redistricting in violation of the North Carolina Constitution. The district court appointed a Special Master to redraw the lines of the districts and ultimately adopted the Master’s recommended reconfiguration; the court credited the Master’s submission that his “‘remedial districts were drawn not with any racial target in mind, but in order to maximize compactness, preserve precinct boundaries, and respect political subdivision lines,’” and that the map was the product of “‘explicitly race-neutral criteria.’” The Supreme Court first rejected an argument that gerrymandering claims ceased to exist when the General Assembly enacted remedial plans and repealed the old plans. It is the segregation of the plaintiffs, not the legislature’s line-drawing, that gives rise to their claims. The court did not abuse its discretion by arranging for the Special Master to draw up a remedial map instead of giving the General Assembly another chance nor by adopting the Special Master’s recommended remedy. While the 2017 legislature instructed its map drawers not to look at race, the district court engaged in detailed, fact-finding and found sufficient circumstantial evidence that race was the predominant factor governing the shape of the districts. The court’s allowance that the Special Master could “consider data identifying the race of individuals or voters to the extent necessary to ensure that his plan cures the unconstitutional racial gerrymanders,” does not amount to a warrant for “racial quotas.” The Court affirmed with respect to four districts but reversed with respect to districts in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties, which was unrelated to racially gerrymandered districts. View "North Carolina v. Covington" on Justia Law

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Beaudreaux shot and killed Drummond in 2006. Esho and Crowder were witnesses. The next day, Crowder told the police that he knew the shooter from school, but did not know his name. Esho described the shooter, but did not know his name. Seventeen months later, Crowder was arrested for an unrelated crime. While Crowder was in custody, police showed him a middle-school yearbook with Beaudreaux’s picture and a photo lineup including Beaudreaux. Crowder identified Beaudreaux. Officers interviewed Esho the next day, showing him a display with a recent picture of Beaudreaux and pictures of five other men. Esho tentatively identified Beaudreaux, saying his picture “was ‘closest’ to the gunman.” Later that day, an officer found another photograph of Beaudreaux that was taken “closer to the date” of the shooting. Beaudreaux looked different in the two photographs. Hours after the first interview, officers showed Esho a second six-man photo lineup, with the older picture of Beaudreaux, in a different position in the lineup. Esho said that the second picture was “very close.” He again declined to positively state that Beaudreaux was the shooter. At a preliminary hearing, Esho identified Beaudreaux as the shooter. At trial, Esho explained that it “clicked” when he saw Beaudreaux in person based on “the way that he walked.” At no time did any investigator or prosecutor suggest to Esho that Beaudreaux was the one who shot Drummond. At trial, Esho and Crowder both identified Beaudreaux as Drummond’s shooter. The jury found Beaudreaux guilty. Beaudreaux’s conviction was affirmed. Beaudreaux's second state habeas petition claimed that his attorney was ineffective for failing to move to suppress Esho’s identification testimony. The California Court of Appeal summarily denied the petition; the California Supreme Court denied review. The Ninth Circuit reversed a denial of federal habeas relief, 28 U.S.C. 2254. The Supreme Court reversed. The Ninth Circuit did not consider reasonable grounds that could have supported the state court’s summary decision, and it analyzed Beaudreaux’s arguments without any meaningful deference to the state court. View "Sexton v. Beaudreaux" on Justia Law

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President Trump lawfully exercised the broad discretion granted to him under section 1182(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), to issue Proclamation No. 9645, suspending the entry of aliens into the United States, and the Proclamation does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Proclamation sought to improve vetting procedures for foreign nationals traveling to the United States by identifying ongoing deficiencies in the information needed to assess whether nationals of particular countries present a security threat,and placed entry restrictions on the nationals of foreign states whose systems for managing and sharing information about their nationals the President deemed inadequate. The Supreme Court held that section 1182(f) entrusts to the President the decisions whether and when to suspend entry, whose entry to suspend, for how long, and on what conditions; Trump fulfilled section 1182(f)'s sole prerequisite that the President find that the entry of the covered aliens would be detrimental to the interests of the United States; even assuming that some form of inquiry into the persuasiveness of the President's findings was appropriate, plaintiffs' attacks on the sufficiency of the findings could not be sustained; the Proclamation comports with the remaining textual limits in section 1182(f); plaintiffs failed to identify any conflict between the Proclamation and the immigration scheme reflected in the INA that would implicitly bar the President from addressing deficiencies in the Nation's vetting system; and plaintiffs' argument that the President's entry suspension violates section 1152(a)(1)(A) ignored the basic distinction between admissibility determinations and visa issuance that runs throughout the INA. Finally, the Court applied rational basis review and held that plaintiffs, although they have standing to challenge the exclusion of their relatives, have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the Proclamation violates the Establishment Clause where the Proclamation was expressly premised on legitimate purposes and said nothing about religion. The Court drew a distinction between whether it must consider not only the statements of a particular President, but also the authority of the Presidency itself. The Court concluded that the Government has set forth a sufficient national security justification to survive rational basis review. View "Trump v. Hawaii" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Texas adopted a new congressional districting plan and new districting maps for the state legislature. The Equal Protection Clause forbids “racial gerrymandering,” but Texas is also subject to section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which is violated when a state districting plan provides “less opportunity” for racial minorities “to elect representatives of their choice.” Texas was also subject to section 5, which barred it from making any districting changes unless it could prove that they did not result in retrogression with respect to the ability of racial minorities to elect the candidates of their choice. The plan was challenged in a Texas district court. Texas submitted the plans for preclearance to the District of Columbia Circuit. For the upcoming primaries, the Supreme Court instructed the Texas court to start with the 2011 plans and make adjustments required by the Constitution and the VRA. The Texas court adopted new interim plans, which, after the D.C. Circuit denied preclearance, were used for the 2012 elections. The state repealed the 2011 plans and enacted the Texas court’s plans with minor modifications. After the Supreme Court’s 2013 "Shelby County" holding, Texas, no longer covered by section 5, obtained a vacatur of the preclearance order. The Texas court allowed a challenge to the 2013 plans and held that challenges to the 2011 plans remained live. Texas conducted its 2014 and 2016 elections under the 2013 plans. In 2017, the Texas court found defects in several districts in the 2011 federal congressional and State House plans; invalidated multiple Congressional and House Districts in the 2013 plans, holding that the Legislature failed to cure the “taint” of discriminatory intent allegedly harbored by the 2011 Legislature; held that three districts were invalid because they had the effect of depriving Latinos of the equal opportunity to elect their candidates of choice; found that HD90 was a racial gerrymander; and gave the state attorney general three days to respond. Assuming jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1253, the Court concluded that the orders qualify as interlocutory injunctions; the short time frame the attorney general was given indicated that the court did not intend to allow the elections to go ahead under the plans it had condemned. The Texas court erred in requiring the state to show that the 2013 Legislature purged the “taint” attributed to the never-used plans enacted by a prior legislature. The “good faith of [the] state legislature must be presumed.” The 2011 Legislature’s intent and the court’s interim plans, weighed with other evidence, “is plainly insufficient to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in bad faith and engaged in intentional discrimination.” The Court reversed as to the three districts in which the Texas court relied on section 2’s “effects” test but affirmed that HD90 is a racial gerrymander. For a section 2 “effects” claim, a plaintiff must establish a geographically compact minority population sufficient to constitute a majority in a single-member district, political cohesion among the members of the minority group, bloc voting by the majority to defeat the minority’s preferred candidate, and that the district lines dilute the votes of the minority group. View "Abbott v. Perez" on Justia Law

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When a phone connects to a cell site, it generates time-stamped cell-site location information (CSLI) that is stored by wireless carriers for business purposes. The FBI identified the cell phone numbers of robbery suspects. Prosecutors obtained court orders to get the suspects’ CSLI under the Stored Communications Act, which requires “reasonable grounds” for believing that the records were “relevant and material to an ongoing investigation,” 18 U.S.C. 2703(d), rather than a showing of probable cause. With CSLI for Carpenter’s phone, the government cataloged Carpenter’s movements over 127 days, showing that Carpenter’s phone was near four robbery locations at the time those robberies occurred. After denial of his motion to suppress, Carpenter was convicted. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the acquisition of Carpenter’s cell-site records was a Fourth Amendment search. The Fourth Amendment protects expectations of privacy “that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable” so that official intrusion generally qualifies as a search and requires a warrant supported by probable cause. Historical cell-site records give the government near-perfect surveillance, allow it to travel back in time to retrace a person’s whereabouts. Rejecting an argument that the third-party doctrine governed these “business records,” the Court noted the “world of difference between the limited types of personal information” addressed in precedent and the “exhaustive chronicle of location information casually collected by wireless carriers.” CSLI is not truly “shared” because cell phones are an indispensable, pervasive part of daily life and they log CSLI without any affirmative act by the user. The Court noted that its decision is narrow and does not address conventional surveillance tools, such as security cameras, other business records that might reveal location information, or collection techniques involving foreign affairs or national security. View "Carpenter v. United States" on Justia Law

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Currier was indicted for burglary, grand larceny, and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Because the prosecution could introduce evidence of his prior burglary and larceny convictions to prove the felon-in-possession charge, which might prejudice the jury’s consideration of the other charges, the parties agreed to a severance and asked the court to try the burglary and larceny charges first, followed by a second trial on the felon-in-possession charge. At the first trial, Currier was acquitted. He then, unsuccessfully, sought to stop the second trial, arguing that it would amount to double jeopardy. The jury convicted him on the felon-in-possession charge. Virginia courts and the Supreme Court affirmed, reasoning that, because Currier consented to a severance, his trial and conviction on the felon-in-possession charge did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause, which provides that no person may be tried more than once “for the same offence.” A second trial is not precluded simply because it is very unlikely that the original jury acquitted without finding the fact in question. Currier was not forced to give up one constitutional right to secure another but faced a lawful choice between courses of action that each bore potential costs and benefits. View "Currier v. Virginia" on Justia Law