Decided - The FindLaw Noteworthy Decisions and Settlements Blog

Recently in Civil Rights Law Category

In Washington, DC, the right to carry a gun in public has been the center of much debate and controversy for several decades. However, over the last several years, DC has been faced with challenges to the safety restrictions imposed on gun ownership.

Just this week, one of those challenges was actually successful in dismantling a statute that made it illegal to carry a concealed weapon in the District without a permit. The permits would only be provided to individuals who could show a compelling need or a good reason for being allowed to carry a concealed handgun. For instance, carrying valuables or cash for work, being targeted for violence in the past, or needing to protect a vulnerable family member, all could potentially qualify a person for a permit.

A ruling on a pair of cases out of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, affirmed a private individual's right to record police performing their duties in public. The cases of Amanda Geraci and Richard Fields both involve law enforcement officers retaliating against them for recording officers performing their duties in public.

While the federal district court handling these two cases found that neither Geraci, nor Fields, were protected by the First Amendment, the Third Circuit was quick to correct the lower court on their mistaken interpretation. Notably, the lower federal court was seemingly going rogue with their interpretation.

In a 7-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Trinity Church in Missouri should have been awarded public funding for resurfacing their playground with recycled tire rubber. While, at first blush, this may not sound so shocking, the ruling tows the line on the separation of church and state.

While seven justices concurred in the result, even among those justices, there was a difference in opinion regarding whether the decision was limited based on the facts of the case. Basically, the Trinity Church applied for a state grant to provide money to rubberize their playground, but was denied due to being a religious organization. The church filed suit, alleging the denial violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, federal law enforcement officials ordered hundreds of mostly Muslim, Arab, or South Asian illegal aliens to be taken into custody and detained. These detentions happened before officials demonstrated any particularized suspicion or knowledge that the detainees had any connection to terrorism, and many were held for months under "harsh conditions" that included repeated and random strip searches, 24-hour-lighted cells, and physical and psychological abuse.

Six of those detained filed a lawsuit against a group of federal officials including former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller, and former Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James Ziglar. But the Supreme Court dismissed those claims, ruling that federal officials are immune from such lawsuits.

Convicted sex offenders are subject to a variety of conditions on their probation or parole. Every state has a mandatory sex offender registry requirement, although time on the registry may vary. And courts have even allowed lifetime GPS monitoring of sex offenders. All of which is to say that the government and law enforcement have a lot of leeway when deciding how to punish and monitor sex offenders.

But North Carolina took that a step too far, apparently. The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a state law banning registered sex offenders from social media sites like Facebook was unconstitutional.

The New Jersey town of Bernards Township has agreed to settle the two cases against it stemming from a dispute over whether a mosque could be built on a vacant lot. While the town claims that there was never any discriminatory intent, the lawsuit alleges a bewildering series of hurdles seemingly intended to prevent the mosque from ever being built.

After the group seeking to build the mosque filed their case, which did not allege discrimination, the Department of Justice joined the suit, adding claims of religious discrimination directed at the Muslim group. The group, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, and the Department of Justice, agreed to a $3.25 million settlement with the township. Of the settlement, $1.5 million will go to the organization for damages, while the remaining $1.75 million will go to attorney fees and case costs.

A Seventh Circuit decision, issued on Tuesday, upheld the lower federal court's preliminary order to allow a transgender teen to use the bathroom that corresponds with his gender identity. The Wisconsin federal court ruled last year that Ashton "Ash" Whitaker could use the boys' restroom, and the school could not prevent or discipline him in any way for doing so.

On appeal, the court sided with Ash on nearly every single point, and even ruled that the case looked like a winner for Ash. The preliminary order allowing Ash to use the bathroom is known as a preliminary injunction. Courts do not grant these unless the party seeking it can immediately prove that they are going to win their case, and if the court doesn't issue the order, irreparable harm/damage will occur.

Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to San Francisco's controversial law banning public nudity. The two plaintiffs seeking to overturn the law, Oxane "Gypsy" Taub, and George Davis, both faced prosecution under the law after donning nothing at all at the city's eccentric Bay to Breakers cross-city marathon, and at a local street fair in the city's foregone hippy epicenter, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.

Among San Francisco's many claims to fame, the casual attitude toward nudity is one that has fallen out of fashion, at least legally. In 2012, the city passed an ordinance requiring any person engaging in a public display of nudity to have obtained a parade permit first. In what is sure to be an upset to nudists everywhere, the ban has been ruled constitutional, and as such, isn't going anywhere, for the time being.

Back in March of 2015, Wikimedia, with help from the ACLU, sued the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the entities' surveillance on online communications. This week, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit after it had been dismissed by a lower court.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of other plaintiffs in the case, but ruled that Wikimedia had standing to bring the suit because its allegations were enough to "make the plausible conclusion" that it had been specifically targeted by the NSA. Here's a look at Wikimedia's claims and the court's decision.

Today, the US Supreme Court rejected hearing an appeal to the Fourth Circuit's ruling striking down several key components of North Carolina's controversial voter ID law, passed last year. Last summer, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that 5 key components, including the voter ID provisions, were unconstitutional and could not be enforced. Since SCOTUS refused to hear the appeal, the Fourth Circuit's ruling stands.

Although the voter ID law was upheld by the lower District Court, on appeal, the court found that lawmakers targeted African American voters ' with almost surgical precision.' Additionally, the appeals court found that the voter ID law was an attempt to 'impose cures for problems that did not exist.'