U.S. Fifth Circuit

U.S. Fifth Circuit - The FindLaw 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog


Just when you thought same-sex marriage in the United States couldn't get any more complicated, a state judge in Louisiana has ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

No biggie -- that's happening all over the place -- but the ruling comes less than a month after a federal district court judge upheld the ban as constitutional. The newest ruling comes from Louisiana's 15th Judicial District Court; Judicial District Courts are the state's trial courts.

For a long, long while, we've wondered what was up with the Fifth Circuit's longstanding vacancies. In fact, just last week, I was speculating about the cause of the vacancies (a Democratic president versus two Republican senators) on FindLaw's Strategist blog. Looks like I'm not the only one wondering what's up: A blog post on the Thomson Reuters Legal Solutions blog goes into detail on the vacancies, as well as possible upcoming vacancies that could drastically change the court.

And speaking of change, the Clerk's Office at the Fifth Circuit has announced that starting this Wednesday, there will be none -- exact change is required for cash payments. I thought the announcement and new policy were pretty hilarious and inconvenient, but then the court, responding to jokes at its expense, explained the really good reason behind the change regarding change.

This is one of those knock-down, drag-out, war-of-attrition fights. Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana have all recently passed restrictive laws on abortions. Abortion providers pushed back, arguing against the laws before conservative Southern courts. And it's not just one issue; there are facial and as-applied challenges to every variation on an abortion restriction one can imagine: admitting privileges, surgical clinic standards, 20-week bans, limits on non-surgical abortions, and more.

The results, somewhat surprisingly, have been mixed. A facial challenge to a Texas admitting privilege law as upheld by the Fifth Circuit, but an as-applied challenge out of Mississippi was narrowly upheld by a different panel over a very passionate dissent. Both cases have en banc requests pending. And the Fifth Circuit just heard oral arguments regarding the Texas surgical-standards provision for abortion clinics, a requirement which could force 13 of the state's 20 clinics to close.

Though abortion laws are being passed and tested throughout the nation, the Fifth Circuit's docket seems to have a new abortion case listed every month. And with both pro-life and pro-choice sides dug in for the long haul, it wouldn't be a surprise to see one or more of these cases reach the Supreme Court.

On Friday, the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments on the issue of whether to issue an emergency stay of enforcement of Texas' abortion law pending resolution of the appeal.

Recall that, in August, a federal district judge held unconstitutional a part of the law requiring abortion clinics to adhere to the same standards as surgical clinics. The result of enforcing the law would be the closure of 13 of the state's 20 abortion clinics, according to The Associated Press.

The case? Thomas Roque v. Natchitoches Parish School Bd., in which Roque is alleging that he was denied a school superintendent position because of race-based discrimination.

During oral arguments for the case, Roque's attorney David Broussard got a quick lesson in Fifth Circuit appellate advocacy, courtesy of Fifth Circuit Judge E. Grady Jolly and District Court Judge Lance M. Africk (sitting by designation) in the form of a double bench-slapping.

Why? One word: interrupting. (H/T to Above the Law and NMissCommentor)

The facts of this case are pretty simple: Allen Thompson was a detective in Waco, Texas. Thompson and two other detectives were found to have falsified their time sheets. Thompson, but not the other two detectives, was subjected to written restrictions. Thompson is black; the other two detectives aren't. Hopefully you can see the Title VII employment discrimination lawsuit coming.

A federal district court dismissed Thompson's suit on the ground that he had failed to allege an adverse employment action. Last week, the Fifth Circuit reversed, finding that restrictions on his job duties were the equivalent of a demotion.

In a 153-page order issued today, a federal district judge in Louisiana ruled that the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill was the result of BP's recklessness. Heightening BP's culpability from negligence to recklessness could subject it to even greater fines.

Judge Carl Barbier's memorandum contains copious findings of fact and conclusions of law, the end product of two bench trials lasting eight months and consisting of In re Triton Asset Leasing GmbH, a suit consisting of thousands of civil claims, as well as impleader and interpleader actions by the various business entities involved with Deepwater Horizon, and United States v. BP Exploration & Production Inc., a suit against BP for civil penalties under various federal statutes.

More than 30 federal courts have ruled against state bans on gay marriage since Windsor. Until today, federal courts unanimously agreed that such bans were unconstitutional, regardless of the level of scrutiny applied -- rational basis, intermediate, or strict scrutiny.

U.S. District Court Judge Martin Leach-Cross Feldman (a Reagan appointee) made note of the unanimity before straying from the course of his colleagues, noting, "It would no doubt be celebrated to be in the company of the near-unanimity of the many other federal courts that have spoken to this pressing issue, if this Court were confident in the belief that those cases provide a correct guide."

Applying the rational basis test, Judge Feldman held that Louisiana had two interests at stake: linking children to intact families formed by biological parents and "safeguarding that fundamental social change, in this instance, is better cultivated through democratic consensus."

The obvious case is, well, obvious.

Shift Sergeant Rodricus Carltez Hurst worked in a Lee County, Mississippi jail. The operations manual at the jail stated that only the Sheriff or his "designee" could talk to the media, though the rule doesn't seem to have been enforced all that well -- the record contained multiple instances where Hurst had spoken to the media during his tenure at the jail.

This time, however, he provided information on a local college player, Chad Bumphis, who had been arrested on New Year's Day after a "big group fight" at a local bar. Sgt. Hurst was quoted in a local newspaper's coverage, which is still available online. Hurst was fired shortly thereafter for violating the Department's media relations policy.

Remember the good old days before Hobby Lobby, when free exercise cases didn't impact reproductive freedom? Boy, do I yearn for a little harmless fun with Santeria in Florida, Hare Krishnas at the airport, or nativity scenes at Christmas.

Prepare to be taken back in time as the Fifth Circuit upholds a Free Exercise challenge to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which the petitioners in McAllen Grace Brethren Church v. Salazar said prevented them from collecting bald eagle feathers to be used in religious ceremonies.