U.S. Fifth Circuit

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


Last June, Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones was accused of making racist comments about a person's propensity for violent crime and otherwise biased comments about the death penalty. A week later, she was pulled off of a death penalty case.

How about a year later? It turns out that Judge Jones was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Judicial Council of the District of Columbia Circuit (the complaint was transferred out of the Fifth Circuit, for obvious reasons) back in August, though the order was finally made public yesterday after the complainants filed an appeal, reports the ABA Journal.

The conclusion (for now): Jones' racial comments were not about racial predispositions, but were instead about statistics. And the death penalty comments? A mere musing on the viability of certain defenses that rarely succeed.

What are the two hottest issues in Texas? The Cowboys and the Cowboys. But for those of you who aren't sports fans, the other answer is gay marriage and the state's embattled voter ID legislation. Both are headed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and possibly to the Supreme Court.

Let's take a look at the latest developments in these two burning civil rights issues:

Just when thought it was safe to go back in the voting booth. Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued a surprise order lifting the Seventh Circuit's stay of enforcement on the district court's order in Wisconsin. All that procedural argle bargle means that Wisconsin won't be enforcing its voter ID law this November. This comes after the Court issued opposite orders in Ohio and North Carolina.

Now, Texas has entered the fray. Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued an opinion yesterday finding Texas' voter ID law unconstitutional and enjoining its enforcement.

Last week, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project Inc.

The grant was limited to the first question presented -- i.e., whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). (Of course, this requires another inevitable question: "What's the standard for such claims?")

Last month, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held oral arguments on whether to issue an emergency stay of the district court's order enjoining enforcement of Texas' abortion law pending the outcome of the appeal on the merits. It's telling that Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, who was the most hostile of the three judges to the opponents of the law, wrote the opinion here.

The Fifth Circuit lifted the stay yesterday, allowing the law to be enforced, which, according to The New York Times, necessitated the immediate closure of 13 abortion clinics that weren't in compliance with the questionably necessary requirements forcing abortion clinics to become little hospitals.

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)