DC Circuit

DC Circuit - The FindLaw DC Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog


After years of fighting for their freedom in U.S. courts, Fadi al-Maqaleh and Amin al-Bakri, who had been detained at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan for at least a decade, were repatriated to Yemen earlier this week.

The timing of the release was curious: not only is al-Bakri is suffering from leukemia, but both al-Maqaleh and al-Bakri were named parties seeking certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court in an appeal of the D.C. Circuit's holding that the district court correctly determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review their habeas petitions. Though U.S. officials refused to comment on al-Bakri's condition, sources told The Washington Post that he was in "bad shape."

The D.C. Circuit Court has been quiet this week, but an opinion from the D.C. District Court is set to create a rumbling that no amount of Tums can abate.

In Citizens United v. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 struck down limitations on campaign spending by corporations. That same year in SpeechNow.org v. FEC, the D.C. Circuit expanded that to include spending by PACs not affiliated with candidates. In this last term, McCutcheon v. FEC expanded the flip side of Citizens United by striking down limitations on aggregate contributions to candidates and PACs.

Steel yourself for the next exciting episode. The Republican and Libertarian Parties asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to strike down limitations on contributions to their parties' non-coordinated campaign funds. In an opinion issued Tuesday, the court agreed that there was something there worth adjudicating.

To what degree must federal agencies consider alternatives when building energy infrastructure? A little bit, said the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday in Minisink Residents for Environmental Preservation and Safety v. FERC. Just because an agency considered an alternative, however, doesn't mean it's obligated to use the alternative.

The Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) approved construction by Millennium Pipeline Company of a natural gas compressor station in Minisink, New York -- a tiny town of 4,490 people about a two hours' drive from New York City. Several Minisink residents weren't too keen about a compressor station and advanced another proposal called the "Wagoner Alternative," which involved building a smaller station seven miles outside of Minisink. The proponents of the Wagoner Alternative claimed it would be better suited to the project than placing the station in the largely residential Minisink. The alternative, however, would require replacing seven miles of pipe -- something the original plan didn't.

It was like the worst DMV visit ever. Except that Aaron Schnitzler wasn't trying to renew his drivers license; he was trying to renounce his U.S. citizenship. And instead of the DMV, he was going to the U.S. State Department. And instead of being a driver on the open road, he was a state prisoner in South Dakota.

Schnitzler wanted to renounce his U.S. citizenship "[f]or reasons we do not understand," the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals explains. OK, fine. So he wrote to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, but they replied that he had to talk to the State Department. Then he wrote to the State Department. But they said that, in order to renounce his citizenship, he had to appear before a diplomat or consular official at a U.S. embassy. He tried the Department of Justice. No dice. He then filed a lawsuit against all three of those departments, telling them he didn't want to be a U.S. citizen anymore.

Former Reagan press secretary James Brady's death earlier this month has been ruled a homicide by the District of Columbia medical examiner, apparently based on his being shot in 1981 by John Hinckley Jr.

Hinckley was trying to assassinate President Reagan but failed; instead, he wounded both Reagan and Brady, who was shot in the head. A jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity (he said he'd shot Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster, whom he had been stalking), though he didn't go free. He's spent his life since then in St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C., as The New York Times has reported.

But even with the homicide ruling, prosecuting Hinckley for Brady's death 33 years after the shooting "could prove tough," an Associated Press headline from over the weekend reads. That would seem to be an understatement.

While much ado was being made of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, another case that could be the death knell for Obamacare flew below the radar -- that is, until the D.C. Circuit ruled against the Obama administration. Then, everyone was all ears. That's because the court's decision -- if adopted by other circuits -- could mean the end of the Affordable Care Act as we know it.

But you didn't think the Obama administration would stop there, did you? Last Friday, the administration filed a petition for rehearing en banc. Let's explore whether the D.C. Circuit will grant the petition.

Americans aren't too keen on mystery meat, and thankfully, the U.S.D.A. is backing us up on that. On the second go around, the D.C. Circuit upheld a country-of-origin labeling rule for meat products, finding that the rule did not compel meat producers to speak.

With only one option left, we'll have to wait and see if the plaintiff will seek redress from the U.S. Supreme Court. Until then, let's look at the legal backdrop.

Barry Gewin has been a troublesome defendant. In 2006, a jury convicted Gewin of securities fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy after a trial in which he represented himself. At sentencing, he refused to give the probation department a full accounting of his assets. The court took what assets it knew about -- including those controlled by his wife -- into account and calculated a bill for $651,541.82, to be paid immediately toward a total amount of restitution and fines for $2.4 million. A year later, Gewin had paid only $1,325 of that amount and tried to send the court a fake International Bill of Exchange for $2.5 million. As you might expect, these actions got him extra time added on for contempt in a 2007 order.

Not that the contempt order mattered. By 2012, the District Court continued its order holding him in civil contempt, as Gewin still hadn't paid any more toward his restitution bill. He challenged the order pro se, arguing that he didn't have control over his wife's accounts and apologizing up and down for not complying with the order.

On appeal to the D.C. Circuit, Gewin made a brand-new argument: The District Court violated his Due Process Rights by not offering to provide counsel during the 2012 contempt proceedings.

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The U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in NFIB v. Sebelius wasn't the last challenge to the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare"); oh, no, not by a long shot. As you'll recall, Chief Justice John Roberts decided that, while the ACA's individual mandate and accompanying penalty wasn't a valid exercise of Congress' Commerce Clause authority, it was permissible as a tax.

Enter Timothy Sandefur, who represented the petitioner in Sissel v. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. He made the too-clever-by-half contention that, if the ACA is a tax, then it should have originated in the House of Representatives, as the Constitution requires of all spending bills. Because it originated in the Senate, the law is unconstitutional.

Nice try, but the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals wasn't having it.

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Chalk up another "W" for Alan Gura, the Second Amendment Foundation, and concealed carry advocates everywhere.

Washington, D.C., is home of some of the nation's most stringent gun laws, including a handgun registration requirement and a complete ban on concealed or open carrying outside of one's home. Or at least it was: It may soon have a pretty lax carrying policy after the District's ban was struck down by a federal district court.

Of course, appeals will likely follow, and stays could be issued, but for now, D.C. police will not be charging nonresidents with violating carrying laws if they are legally allowed to carry in their home states. As for residents, as long as the handgun is registered in accordance with D.C. law, carrying is permissible. As always, felons, spouse-beaters, and other individuals prohibited from owning firearms need not apply.

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