Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Eighth Circuit
U.S. Eighth Circuit - The FindLaw 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Recently in Civil Rights Law Category

Has the Eighth Circuit lost it? Or is it just the one voice of reason in our appellate courts? Why do we ask?

The Eighth Circuit has ruled that Obamacare's contraception opt out -- the part of the Affordable Care Act that allows religious nonprofits to avoid directly providing contraception to their employees -- violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and burdens employers' exercise of religion. In its two rulings issued Thursday, the Eighth stands alone. Similar arguments have been rejected by seven other circuit courts.

Supreme Court here we come!

It was Gay Marriage Day in the Eighth Circuit last Tuesday. No, there wasn't any extra same-sex nuptials, parades, or celebrations. Rather, the circuit court took Tuesday to formally strike down the same-sex marriage bans, following the Supreme Court's ruling nine weeks ago.

As a result of this decision, the same-sex marriage bans in South Dakota, Arkansas, and Nebraska are just about finito. Of course, that doesn't mean the controversial issue is entirely settled. Some county clerks in nearby states are refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, while gay rights advocates are now moving to challenge other discriminatory laws and practices.

In June, the Eighth Circuit struck down an Arkansas law banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. A few weeks later, the circuit tossed a similar law in North Dakota. In both cases, the Eighth Circuit ruled reluctantly, lamenting that it was bound by Supreme Court precedent.

Now, the ridicule has started rolling in, not because of the Court's holding, but because of the opinions themselves. The opinion in the North Dakota case, authored by Judge Bobby Shepherd, has been particularly targeted. Slate described it as "anti-science." The Economist said it read more like "novice high-school debate speech than a ruling by a federal appellate judge." What's all the hubbub about?

The Eighth Circuit became the latest appellate court to strike down a state law banning abortions before viability last week. The court threw out an Arkansas law banning abortions after 12 weeks, reiterating the requirement that states may not unduly burden a woman's right to choose prior to fetal viability.

However, unlike its sister circuit to the west, the Eighth did not emphasis the arbitrary or burdensome nature of those bans. Rather, it lamented the lack of a scientific record in the case which may allow it to move the line of viability forward and, with a heavy wink and nudge to abortion opponents, discussed how scientific developments might reshape abortion law.

Nebraska Abolishes Death Penalty

Big news from Nebraska! The state legislature voted 30-19 to override the veto of Governor Pete Ricketts, thereby abolishing the death penalty in that state.

Nebraska is the first conservative state in 40 years to abolish the death penalty, The New York Times reported, and the vote cut across party lines.

Roderick Nunley pleaded guilty to the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 15-year-old in 1989. The state court judge sentenced him to death. Nunley had argued, before the Eight Circuit, that his capital sentence was a violation of state and federal precedent, since he was sentenced to death without a jury. According to Nunley, state and federal Supreme Court precedent required a jury sentencing for a death penalty to be permissible.

Not so, ruled the Eighth, which found that Nunley had unequivocally waived his right to a jury sentencing when he plead guilty.

Family of Michael Brown Sues City of Ferguson, Darren Wilson

As expected, the family of Michael Brown filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Ferguson, Missouri, its former police chief, and former police officer Darren Wilson.

Brown was killed by Wilson in an altercation last year, which began the most recent national conversation about young black men being shot by white police officers. A grand jury declined to indict Wilson for Brown's death, leading to accusations that the prosecution stacked the evidence in Wilson's favor, and then to protests in Ferguson and elsewhere.

What can you get from two marijuana roaches with leftover weed, blunt paper, cigarillo wrappers, and 2 baggie knots pulled from the trash? No, it's not the worst Christmas present ever -- it's probable cause!

A few scraps of marijuana and paraphernalia recovered after searching through thirteen -- thirteen! -- bags of trash weren't the evidence of crack dealing that cops sought, but they were enough to support a warrant to search the house, the Eighth Circuit ruled on Monday.

8th Cir. Upholds UMKC Lecturer's Firing for Speaking Out

After Henry Lyons gave a student athlete an "F" in his course at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, a university committee determined that the student should get a second chance. The paper, graded by the committee, got a D+.

Lyons complained to the school's chancellor about the preferential treatment afforded student athletes and asked for an investigation. The university didn't offer him a job for the next semester, which Lyons said was retaliation for speaking out about the treatment of student athletes, a violation of his First Amendment rights.

8th Cir. Will Hear Expedited Same-Sex Marriage Appeals

In what The Associated Press called "a surprise," the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals announced that it would hear same-sex marriage appeals from South Dakota, Arkansas, and Missouri in a consolidated oral argument held the week of May 11 in Omaha, Nebraska.

The court agreed not only to consolidate all the cases, but to expedite the appeals. The court's ruling will definitely be influenced by the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in the Sixth Circuit same-sex marriage cases, which it will hear some time this term.