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

Recently in Civil Rights Law Category

The civil rights case of a man alleging a violation of his right to privacy against Verizon is notable for a couple reasons. But the Alexander v. Verizon matter might not be getting as much attention for the substantive part of the case, but rather for an interesting footnote.

First off, there is actually an interesting legal case that involves not-so-emerging technology and how it is now used by law enforcement, and whether service providers can be liable for bad police work.

Secondly, the case contains that rather loaded footnote discussing the great online debate of whether the word internet should be capitalized, or not, and when.

Texas Woman Wrongly Jailed Wins Appeal

Last week, FindLaw's Chris Coble covered the story of the Texas woman who is suing the county for being falsely accused and jailed. The story was among the week's most popular on social media for FindLaw's consumer audience. This means, if you are a lawyer, this is the kind of case potential clients are reading.

Jessica Jauch certainly needed a lawyer when she got out of jail.

Texas Ban on Sanctuary Cities Goes Forward

There's a shootout in Texas over sanctuary cities, and right now the new sheriff and his deputy are winning.

That sheriff would be U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and his Texas deputy would be state Attorney General Ken Paxton. Since President Trump took office, Sessions has been gunning for cities that refuse to cooperate with the President's new immigration policies.

The Texas legislature got behind Sessions and passed a law that penalizes the so-called sanctuary cities for non-compliance. A federal appeals court said, more or less, "that's pretty much the law, pardner."

The recent Texas voter ID laws that were blocked by a federal district court injunction have just had the enforcement of that order stayed pending the appeal, on the merits, by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. This means that the new voter ID laws will remain effective pending the resolution of the case, despite the district court issuing a permanent injunction enjoining their enforcement.

However, it is worth noting that the newest provision of the law, under the recently passed SB5, permits voters to submit actual ballots upon the signing of a declaration under the penalty of perjury. As the appellate court explained, this procedure nearly obviates the need for the injunctive relief requested as it supersedes SB14 and allows voters without ID to vote.

In a rare decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated and remanded an order of a lower district keeping the documents showing the probable cause basis for a pre-indictment search warrant under seal. These decisions are usually upheld as appellate courts generally provide quite a bit of deference to the lower court's findings of fact.

The appellant in the matter, Justin Smith, was the subject of multiple searches, authorized by warrants. He sought to have the probable cause documents supporting the warrants unsealed in order to find out why. However, the district court refused. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit's rationale for vacating the order does not really touch the merits of the matter at all, but rather focuses on procedure, and surprisingly, finds the district court failed in their duty to write a good opinion.

Texas's voter identification law, widely viewed as one of the harshest in the country, was passed with a discriminatory purpose, a district court in Texas ruled yesterday. The ruling comes on remand from an en banc Fifth Circuit, which ruled last July that the law had a discriminatory effect, but sent the case back down to reconsider evidence going to whether the law was intended to discriminate. Yesterday, district court judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos answered, once again, "Yes, it was."

The ruling is particularly important, since a finding of discriminatory purpose could kill the voter ID law altogether and could constitute grounds for putting Texas under federal supervision.

Mississippi Can Keep Its Flag, 5th Cir. Rules

A federal appeals court rejected a black man's attempt to bring down Mississippi's flag, which features a Confederate battle ensign and enshrines the state's slave history.

Carlos Moore, an attorney, claimed the Confederate emblem violated his rights to Equal Protection. But the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal said he did not have standing to sue, even though he may have felt the stigma from the vestige of slavery in Moore v. Governor Dewey Phillip Bryant.

"Plaintiff's exposure to the Mississippi flag in courtrooms where he practices and his alleged physical injuries resulting from that exposure demonstrate that he strongly feels the stigmatic harm flowing from the flag," Judge Stephen Higginson wrote for the unanimous court.

However, the court explained, stigmatic injury is not injury-in-fact for standing purposes.

The long-running dispute over Texas's restrictive voter ID law took another turn last week, as the Department of Justice dropped one of its key objections to the law. The DOJ will no longer argue that the Texas law was enacted with discriminatory intent, the Department announced last Monday.

Texas's voter ID law, SB14, is one of the strictest in the country. After it was adopted in 2011, both the Department of Justice and civil rights groups sued, arguing that the law disenfranchised Texas voters, particularly poor and minority Texans. They won a significant victory last summer, when an en banc Fifth Circuit found that the law violated the Voting Rights Act. But the Fifth declined to rule on the DOJ's claim that the act was intentionally discriminatory, remanding that question the district court for further investigation.

Injunction of TX Illegal Immigrant Harboring Law Overturned

It was as close to a win-win decision as they get, especially considering that both sides lost.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an injunction landlords had obtained against enforcement of an anti-harboring statute, then dismissed their case and said they were not subject to prosecution under the law. Because the plaintiffs lacked standing, the court could have side-stepped the harboring issue. But instead, the court laid down the law.

"Because there is no reasonable interpretation by which merely renting housing or providing social services to an illegal alien constitutes 'harboring ... that person from detection,' we reverse the injunction and render a judgment of dismissal for want of jurisdiction," the court said.

The First Amendment includes the right to videotape police officers, subject only to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, the Fifth Circuit ruled last Thursday.

The ruling comes after Fort Worth, Texas police officers detained a man for filming their police station from the sidewalk. And it's not terribly shocking. Every circuit court to address the issue has ruled similarly. Nonetheless, the court ruled, that right to film wasn't clearly established at the time of the detention, meaning that the detained man couldn't pursue his civil rights suit against the officers on First Amendment grounds.