Civil Rights Law Decisions: Decided
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Police officers may stop a vehicle based on a misunderstanding of traffic laws without violating the civil rights, the Supreme Court has ruled.

In its 8-1 ruling on Monday, the High Court found that even though a North Carolina police officer misunderstood a state traffic law regarding brake lights, the mistake was reasonable, and thus the search that followed was not illegal. The driver, Nicholas B. Heien, consented to the search of his car following the stop, which yielded a baggie of cocaine.

So why did the Court rule for a search based on a good-faith mistake in Heien v. North Carolina?

Gay marriage opponents got their first victory in a federal appeals court Thursday, as the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld same-sex marriage bans as constitutional in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Two judges on the 6th Circuit's three-judge panel determined that the issue of defining marriage should be left to the states, not judges, reports the Detroit Free Press. Meantime, the lone dissenting judge blasted her colleagues, calling the opinion more of a "TED talk" than a constitutional analysis. The 2-1 decision is now the rule of law in the four states mentioned above.

Why did the 6th Circuit uphold these states' gay marriage bans when so many other courts have struck down similar laws?

An Arizona law denying bail to certain undocumented immigrants was struck down on Wednesday by a federal appeals court, finding the law to be an unconstitutional violation of due process.

This isn't the first time that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reviewed Proposition 100, a 2006 Arizona ballot measure that denied bail to undocumented immigrants charged with "serious" crimes. The Los Angeles Times reported that the appellate court upheld the law in a 2-1 decision last year, but the full panel wanted to rehear the case.

So why did the 9th Circuit decide to struck down the no-bail law this time?

A strip club in Massachusetts can operate with fewer restrictions thanks to a recent federal appellate court's ruling.

Showtime Entertainment LLC sued the town of Mendon because of the hamlet's "maze of regulations" which made it near impossible to establish or operate an adult entertainment business there. Mendon's bylaws focused specifically on adult entertainment businesses like Showtime, requiring them to be within a size and height limit, mandating off-duty policemen to patrol the business, and forbidding alcohol.

Why did the court rule for Showtime over Mendon's rules?

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear five gay marriage appeals, effectively making gay marriage legal in five more states.

The High Court denied applications for appeal from Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Virginia, which means the lower court decisions which struck down gay marriage bans in those states are in effect. The Associated Press reports that six other states will likely have marriage equality soon, with their respective gay marriage decisions only on hold pending the Supreme Court's review.

What does the Supreme Court's refusal to hear gay marriage cases mean?

A divided U.S. Supreme Court has blocked early voting from beginning today in Ohio, with opponents worried that minority voters will be the ones to suffer.

In a 5-4 decision, the High Court granted Ohio's request to stay an earlier ruling by a lower federal court which is pending appeal, reports USA Today. Grants to stay lower rulings from the Supreme Court don't typically have much detail, but this one-page ruling did indicate that four of the nine justices opposed it.

What are the effects of this early voting stay?

A Louisiana judge has found the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional, but the ruling may be limited to this particular case.

Judge Edward Rubin of Louisiana's 15th Judicial District Court struck down the same-sex marriage ban in a case involving a lesbian couple and their young child. Lafayette's KATC-TV reports that Angela Marie Costanza and Chasity Shanelle Brewer were legally married in California, but they were having issues getting Costanza recognized as a second parent (Brewer was the biological parent).

This Louisiana ruling granted both parents the rights they sought, and it may mean hastening legal gay marriage in Louisiana.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tossed out a portion of a Texas criminal statute that prohibited taking unauthorized pictures in public for the purposes of sexual gratification after finding that the law violated First Amendment free speech rights.

The state's highest criminal court upheld a lower court decision on Wednesday overturning the law 8-1, reports the Houston Chronicle. Under the law, taking surreptitious photos of a person in a public place, such as upskirt photos of women, was considered a state jail felony. The law was challenged by Ronald Thompson, who was charged under the law in 2011 after taking pictures of clothed children at a San Antonio waterpark.

What was the court's rationale for overturning the law?

A federal judge has ruled in favor of a man and his four sister wives in a decision that struck down a portion of Utah's anti-polygamy law.

The case involved the stars of television reality series "Sister Wives," who filed a civil rights lawsuit against Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman following a 2010 investigation into allegations of bigamy, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

Does this "Sister Wives" ruling mean that polygamy is now legal?

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a last-minute order halting gay marriage in Virginia on Wednesday.

In an underwhelming one-paragraph order, the High Court imposed a stay on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling, effectively putting Virginia gay marriage on "pause" until it can be appealed. The Washington Post suggests that the Supreme Court doesn't want to implicate itself in making a decision on marriage by refusing to act.

Was this Virginia decision really all that surprising?