5th Circuit Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Fifth Circuit
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Texas's voter ID law has a "discriminatory effect" in violation of the Voting Rights Act, the Fifth Circuit ruled today. The law required voters to produce specific types of photo identification in order to vote. Concealed gun licenses were allowed; student IDs were not.

Opponents of the law argued that it would have little effect on preventing voter fraud while resulting in the disenfranchisement of Hispanic and African American voters. The Fifth Circuit agreed, in part, but refused to invalidate the law outright. The decision comes one day before the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

Employers who opt out of providing health insurance coverage for contraceptives don't have their religious exercise burdened by those opt out procedures, the Fifth Circuit ruled on Monday. The Circuit joined the Seventh, Sixth, Third, and D.C. Circuits in rejecting a challenge to Obamacare's contraception mandate by religious nonprofit organizations.

Under Obamacare, religious nonprofits can opt out of directly providing contraception to their employees. To do so, they need simply fill out a short form and send to the Department of Health and Human Services for certification. Third parties then provide contraception access. 

Religious groups have said that simply filing out the form "triggers" their participation in contraception and burdens their religious freedom. The Fifth rejected that argument yesterday, as had all other circuit courts who've addressed it.

The Fifth Circuit has upheld key and controversial restrictions to a Texas abortion law today. The strict abortion law requires that abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and that facilities meet standards for surgical centers. When passed, the law made headlines for its restrictions and the 13-hour filibuster former state Senator Wendy Davis held against it.

The Texas law imposes some of the most burdensome requirements on abortion providers in the nation and the ruling upholding it will likely force most abortion clinics in the nation's second most populous state to close.

The principle of "one person, one vote" seems abundantly straightforward in principle. In application, this principle seems to elicit never-ending conflict. In Evenwel v. Abbott, the Supreme Court will have another say in the matter.

The desire for a vote to be heard is presumably driven by a desire for fairness. That's the underlying basis of the appellant's argument: the current voting arraignment for state Senate districts in Texas in not fair.

Louisiana cannot revoke sentence-shortening "good-time credits" earned by prisoners based on legal changes that occurred after a prisoner's initial sentencing, the Fifth Circuit ruled this week.

The court granted habeas relief for Richard Price, who was sentenced for armed robbery in Louisiana in 1985, and lost all of his good-time credit after he violated parole conditions. That was an unconstitutional ex post facto application of the law, the Fifth held.

Bivens Not Available for Immigration Proceedings: 5th Cir.

A claim under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics is essentially a Supreme Court-created version of 42 USC 1983, a statute conferring a cause of action for state officials' violations of a plaintiff's civil rights.

Plaintiffs can get money damages under Bivens, as they can under 42 USC 1983, but can undocumented immigrants get damages for Fourth Amendment violations allegedly committed by border patrol agents?

Today was a big day for oral arguments, but not just in D.C. While the Supreme Court grappled with gay marriage and lethal injection, the Fifth Circuit heard panel arguments over Texas's voter ID law.

Texas's law requires voters to produce specific types of identification in order to cast a ballot. A district court judge found that the law not only had discriminatory effects, but that it was also passed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose. That conclusion could be in jeopardy today, as at least one Fifth Circuit judge, Catharina Haynes, found the district court's conclusion about the law's intent to be "very troubling" and "rank speculation."

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.