Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Eleventh Circuit
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It's been in vogue for a while to drug test recipients of state and federal welfare, on the theory either that welfare recipients take a lot of drugs or that since "we" are paying "them," then we get to conduct intrusive searches into their lives.

The Eleventh Circuit Court last week affirmed that the state of Florida cannot conduct suspicionless drug testing on welfare recipients.

Add another state to the list of those that allow same-sex marriages -- unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in first, that is.

On Wednesday, the Eleventh Circuit denied Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's request to continue blocking same-sex marriages in the state of Florida, which means same-sex couples can start sending out save-the-dates for any time after January 5, 2015. However, there are a couple of (admittedly unlikely) ways in which the High Court could step in and prevent that from happening.

Back in August, a federal district judge in Florida held that the state's same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. That was, of course, a lifetime ago in light of what's happened since: The Supreme Court punted, the Sixth Circuit upheld, and same-sex marriage is the law in 33 states (for now).

Well, the State of Florida isn't taking this lying down. Attorney General Pamela Bondi is appealing the district court's order. Does Florida's brief to the Eleventh Circuit have anything new that hasn't been dismissed by four other circuit courts already?

Lisa West, an attorney, entered the Fulton County Courthouse in Georgia on December 9, 2010. She was wearing a suit jacket and no overcoat. A sheriff's duty told her to remove her suit jacket; she said she wouldn't because it would "improperly expose her undergarments." The deputy said that if she didn't remove the suit jacket, she could leave. If she didn't do either one, she'd be arrested.

West called her husband, also an attorney, while still at the checkpoint. Though there were no signs saying she couldn't have a cell phone, the deputy grabbed her hand, squeezed it, forcing the cell phone out. When a supervisor arrived, he said that she didn't have to remove her jacket. She could be wanded instead, and she could have been wanded from the very beginning.

West filed a lawsuit against the deputy, and last week, the Eleventh Circuit said at least part of it could proceed.

State and federal laws protect a person's ability to live in a housing unit with a service animal even if the landlord or homeowners association has a no pets policy. This is because a service animal isn't a "pet," it's a service animal.

A Florida homeowners association didn't seem to think so. It was skeptical of one tenant's claim that he needed a service animal that exceeded the HOA's weight limit. The Eleventh Circuit decided last week that its demands for more information were unreasonable.

Add yet another victory to the list for same-sex marriage advocates in Florida. After victories in four counties, a federal judge made a statewide ruling earlier today. U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee held that Florida's ban violates guarantees of equal protection and due process, but stayed his decision pending appeal. The decision covers both in-state and recognition of out-of-state marriages.

What's the real-world effect? Very little, for now. It's a near certainty that the Supreme Court will take on the issue of same-sex marriage during its next term, which begins this fall. Given that Judge Hinkle's opinion was stayed pending appeal, and any appeal to the Eleventh Circuit would likely not happen before SCOTUS weighs in, this is but a minor footnote, albeit a positive one.

Here are five takeaways from Judge Hinkle's ruling:

Free speech? Or professional conduct regulation? The Florida law at issue prohibits doctors from asking a patient about his or her guns, unless gun ownership is relevant to the patient's medical care. A violation can lead to a suspended or revoked license to practice medicine, along with a fine of up to $10,000.

The doctors sued, claiming that it violated their First Amendment rights. But the Eleventh Circuit panel's majority disagreed, calling a permissible regulation of professional conduct.

Now the doctors are asking for an en banc rehearing, hoping that the larger court will agree with Judge Charles Wilson's dissent, where he called the law a "gag order."

An ordinance in West Palm Beach, Florida, prohibits using amplified sound within 100 feet of the property line of any health care facility. Sounds neutral, but the real purpose of the law is to prevent anti-abortion protesters from using megaphones outside of abortion clinics.

The appellants in this case, Mary Susan Pine and Marilyn Blackburn, are two such protesters. They sued the city for an injunction on First Amendment grounds. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied the injunction, and on August 6, the 11th Circuit affirmed.

First it was Monroe County. Then, late last week, it was Miami-Dade County. And if the plaintiffs have their way, it'll soon be the entire state of Florida.

Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel held Friday that Florida's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional in a case that only applies to Miami-Dade County. The decision came a little more than a week after Circuit Judge Luis Garcia's similar decision in Monroe County. Both decisions are expected to be appealed, but the plaintiff-appellees in the Monroe County case are asking that the process be expedited by skipping the state appeals court and heading straight to the Florida Supreme Court.

If the motion is granted, a decision by the Florida Supreme Court would have statewide effect. If not, a parallel challenge to the state's ban in federal court could have the same effect. A decision in the federal case is expected soon.

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We've seen court after court after court, including a federal circuit court of appeal, rule in favor of gay marriage. But courts in the Eleventh Circuit have been conspicuously silent on the issue -- until now.

This afternoon, Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garica overturned Florida's 2008 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. It's a narrow victory for gay rights proponents in Florida -- it only applies to Monroe County (the Florida Keys) -- but with four cases in the state racing towards decisions, it's a good sign of things to come, and yet another entry in a long winning streak for gay marriage nationwide.

Here are a few takeaways from the decision: