Civil Rights Law Decisions: Decided
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A federal district judge has ruled that California's death penalty system is unconstitutional, ironically because Death Row takes too long.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney determined in Jones v. Chappell that the massive delays in the Golden State's administration of the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Reuters reports that since 1978, only 13 convicts have been executed in California, while more than 900 were sentenced to death.

Is waiting too long for the death penalty in California really unconstitutional?

The University of Texas at Austin can continue its affirmative action program, after a federal appeals court upheld its use on Tuesday.

In a 2-1 vote, a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cleared the use of race in undergraduate admissions, Reuters reports. This decision comes more than one year after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the case to be returned to the 5th Circuit and be examined under more exacting scrutiny.

Why did affirmative action make it in this case?

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn, wrapping up its 2013 Term by addressing two contentious issues: Obamacare's contraceptive mandate and public union dues.

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Court ruled that closely held corporations can object to providing certain forms of birth control to employees as required under Obamacare, if doing so would violate sincerely held religious beliefs. In Harris v. Quinn, the Court held that Illinois home healthcare workers could not be compelled to pay union dues to unions they were not members of.

What was the High Court's rationale in these two much-anticipated opinions?

The government's "no-fly list" rules were ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in Oregon on Tuesday, who held the government must change its procedures.

U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown issued a ruling criticizing the lack of notice and respect for citizens' due-process rights in flagging passengers for the no-fly list. The Los Angeles Times reports that this ruling is the first of its kind, and recognizes that "international travel is a necessary aspect of liberties sacred to members of a free society."

So how exactly did Judge Brown rule on the "no-fly list?"

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts abortion clinic "buffer zone" law that kept protesters more than 11 yards away from patients.

In McCullen v. Coakley, the High Court found that the state's Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act, which made it a crime for protesters to knowingly stand within 35 feet of an abortion clinic, violated the First Amendment. The abortion clinic "buffer zone" effectively cut off free speech efforts on sidewalks and other public thoroughfares, which are traditional forums for speech activities.

Why does this "buffer zone" violate constitutionally protected free speech rights?

The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to take another look at a case involving a Louisiana man who died after police stunned him with a Taser at least eight times while handcuffed.

The wrongful death case, Thomas v. Nugent, was brought on behalf of the young son of the man killed in the incident, Baron Pikes. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the suit, finding it wasn't clear that Officer Scott Nugent had violated Pikes' constitutional rights; as The Associated Press reports, the court explained that an officer is typically granted immunity from lawsuits unless the officer violates such rights, and those rights must be clearly established at the time of the incident.

What exactly happened to Pikes? And what did the 5th Circuit do wrong, according to the Supreme Court?

Idaho's gay marriage ban was struck down Tuesday by a federal judge who declined to put her ruling on hold pending an appeal.

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Dale struck down the Gem State's same-sex marriage ban in a case entitled Latta v. Otter. And in a surprising twist, Judge Dale chose not to delay her decision while the state appeals, reports The Associated Press.

How does this Idaho gay marriage decision differ from other federal cases?

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld opening prayers at town meetings Monday, ruling that even consistent sectarian prayers did not violate the First Amendment.

In a 5-4 decision in Greece v. Galloway, the High Court affirmed the town of Greece, New York's practice of offering a prayer before opening town board meetings, despite the fact that the vast majority of these prayers were distinctly Christian. Two Greece residents sued over the practice, The New York Times reports.

Prayers at town meetings are permitted under the Constitution, the Court ruled. But why?

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Michigan's ban on affirmative action in a 6-2 ruling issued Tuesday.

This decision affirms Michigan's Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment that prohibits discriminatory or preferential practices like affirmative action in public education, public employment, or government contracts, reports The New York Times.

What does this mean for affirmative action in Michigan and nationwide?

"Company Doe's" secrets could soon be revealed after a federal appeals court panel determined the corporation cannot keep product-safety litigation secret to protect its image.

The case involved the death of an infant, and the corporation wished to be only known as "Company Doe" in court papers to maintain confidentiality. But a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that sealing court records in this case violated the public's constitutional rights to "obtain access to civil proceedings," Reuters reports.

So when will "Company Doe" and its secrets be revealed? It's still not quite clear.