5th Circuit Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Fifth Circuit
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The federal government's "reverse sting" operation on five defendants was not entrapment or a violation of due process, the Fifth Circuit held on Monday, in an unpublished decision.

The defendants' unlucky story began when the group met with a disgruntled cocaine trafficker, Richard Zayas. Zayas was looking for help in robbing a stash house and the crew was happy to provide it.

Evidence of a man's possession of cocaine following a traffic stop must be suppressed because of the officer's unreasonable mistakes of law and fact, the Fifth Circuit ruled on Monday. In stopping a driver for failing to signal sufficiently before changing lanes, Texas Highway Patrol Officer was wrong not only about the law, but about the distance between the defendant's activation of his signal and his turn, rendering the stop an unreasonable seizure.

The case marks the first time that the Fifth Circuit has addressed the reasonableness in errors in estimating distances. For an error in distance to be reasonable, the court held, it must be supported with specific, articulable facts, something which was undermined by the officer's misapplication of the law.

Several Supreme Court Justices expressed frustration with the record in the case of Brumfield v. Cain during oral arguments on Monday. At the heart of the case is whether Louisiana is bound by the Constitution to provide a separate hearing to decide whether someone convicted of murder is mentally disabled or not. The expansive record seemed to provide no clear guidance as to how the state's determination to not provide a hearing was made.

The Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia, decided in 2002, that states may not execute mentally disabled individuals convicted of murder. But the decision also left it to the states to decide who fits into that category; now the Court must tackle with the adequacy of those determinations.

A federal judge in Texas has put a stop to the Obama administration's plans to expand coverage of Family and Medical Leave Act protections to married same-sex couples, at least temporarily. Judge Reed O'Connor, in the District Court for the Northern District of Texas, ordered the government to stay its FMLA final rule after Texas brought suit.

The stay puts a halt to an expansion which would have seen leave protections extended to all married spouses, regardless of state. The FMLA allows covered workers to take to take unpaid leave in the case of serious health conditions, to care for a spouse or child, or for the birth or adoption of a new child.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing arguments today in three separate gay marriage appeals, from Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The longest pending of these cases is the one from Texas, DeLeon v. Perry, which has been in a holding pattern in the Fifth Circuit for almost a year. Now, nearly 11 months since the district court struck down Texas' same-sex marriage prohibition as unconstitutional, the parties will have their chance (at 30 minutes per side) to have their cases heard before the appellate court.

I had the privilege of speaking with Mark Phariss, one of the four plaintiffs in DeLeon, in November, who shared these thoughts about the case:

Stay in Miss. Gay Marriage Case; Arg. Consolidated With La., Tex.

A little more than a week after U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves struck down Mississippi's gay marriage ban, the Fifth Circuit propped it back up, albeit possibly temporarily.

Late last week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay pending appeal to the state of Mississippi, allowing the state to continue to enforce its ban on gay marriage. However, the ban may not last long -- the court also consolidated the appeal with two others out of Louisiana and Texas, setting the oral argument showdown for all three states in early January.

Gay Marriage Comes to Mississippi -- Yes, That Mississippi

"If gay marriage can be legal in Mississippi, the whole country can feel hope."

True indeed, Jocelyn "Joce" Pritchett. Pritchett is one of the plaintiffs in the Mississippi gay marriage case, a federal case where a judge just struck down that state's same-sex marriage ban, reports The Associated Press.

The Mississippi decision is especially notable due to the people of Mississippi's opposition to same-sex marriage, an opinion that they have made "abundantly clear through every channel in which popular opinion can be voiced," U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves in Jackson, Mississippi wrote.

Thanks to some intrepid journalism by FindLaw blogger (and native Texan) Brett Snider, we've obtained a copy of the plaintiffs' motion to lift the stay on the injunction against Texas' same-sex marriage ban.

That's a lot of prepositions. Way back in February, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas held the state's same sex marriage ban unconstitutional. The court stayed enforcement of its injunction, however, because same-sex marriage cases were pending at the Supreme Court and in other federal circuit courts of appeal.

Well, the state of campaign finance laws isn't all bad. A month or so after the Tenth Circuit said that Citizens United didn't have to disclose the contributors to its film "Rocky Mountain Heist," the Fifth Circuit upheld the constitutionality of Mississippi's campaign disclosure requirements, reversing a district court order to the contrary.

The case centers on a state law that requires disclosure when a political committee advocating for a voter-initiated amendment to the state constitution receives a donation of over $200 from a single person in a given month or when a single, unaffiliated individual spends over $200 "to influence voters."

5th Cir. Preview of 3 Huge Cases: Obamacare, Abortion, Gay Marriage

Every circuit gets its 15 minutes of fame. The Tenth Circuit drew a lot of attention this year for being the first to rule on marriage equality. The Fourth and D.C. Circuits battled for headlines by releasing conflicting Obamacare subsidy opinions on the same day. And everyone is waiting on the Sixth Circuit, which could be the first to rule against gay marriage, which would likely lead to a Supreme Court showdown on the issue.

The next few months, however, will belong to the Fifth Circuit. On December 2, a panel will hear a challenge to Obamacare based on the origination clause. And in early January, the Fifth Circuit will hear oral arguments in consolidated gay marriage cases out of Louisiana and Texas, as well as a full review of Texas House Bill 2, the controversial law that set forth broad restrictions on abortions in the state.