Civil Rights Law News - U.S. First Circuit
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In 2012, police in Portland, Maine declared a "public safety emergency." Too many people, it seemed, were panhandling. Asking "brother, can you spare a dime," the mendicants would often stand on busy street corners and medians, entreating drivers as they passed by. Concerned that panhandlers would stumble into traffic -- or just wanting to keep the poor out of sight and out of mind -- the Portland City Council adopted a resolution banning virtually all activity in median strips.

The law banned virtually every use of a media, except for passing over it when crossing a street. Standing, sitting, staying -- all were illegal when done on a median. That indiscriminate ban on "virtually all expressive activity" violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, the First Circuit ruled last Friday.

Puerto Rico began accepting applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples yesterday, less than three weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that gay and lesbian couples have a fundamental right to marriage. Puerto Rico was the only part of the First Circuit that had not legalized same-sex marriage prior to the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell.

The District Court of Puerto Rico was also one of the few federal courts to uphold a same-sex marriage ban in recent years. The First Circuit formally reversed that opinion in a brief judgment issued last Wednesday.

The First Circuit, in an opinion by former Supreme Court Justice Souter, upheld a Massachusetts police officer's excessive force conviction stemming from an assault on an arrestee. Shawn Coughlin, a cop in Plymouth, Massachusetts -- yes, the Plymouth of Plymouth Rock fame -- was sentenced to a year and a day in prison after beating a handcuffed arrestee in a holding cell and falsifying records to impede the federal investigation.

On appeal, Coughlin claimed that there was insufficient evidence that his actions, striking the arrestee in the head and kneeing him in the torso, resulted in bodily injury. Not so, said the First Circuit. If it looks like a beating and sounds like a beating, it probably feels like one too -- and that's enough for a jury to decided that there was bodily injury.

A man convicted of burglary in Massachusetts did not have his rights violated when the state court limited his cross-examination of the victim and when the prosecutors withheld the 911 transcript, the First Circuit held on Wednesday.

In both cases, the court found, the information and theories the defense wished to advance were still introduced to the jury despite the alleged violations. The unpublished opinion was authored, perhaps with a fountain pen, by former Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

Puerto Rico Will No Longer Enforce Its Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Back in October, a federal judge in Puerto Rico bucked the same-sex marriage trend by declaring that the island wouldn't be going the way of almost every other court in holding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.

Last Friday, though, Judge Perez-Gimenez's decision became a lot less relevant. Puerto Rico announced that it would no longer enforce its same-sex marriage ban.

Transgender Inmate Files Cert. Petition With Supreme Court

Following an en banc reversal of fortune, Michelle Kosilek was denied the ability to have a sex-change operation paid for by the Massachusetts Department of Correction. Both a federal district court and a three-judge panel of the First Circuit agreed that the state should pay, but the en banc court reversed.

Now, Kosilek is taking her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

No Sexual Reassignment Surgery for Inmate: En Banc 1st Cir.

Michelle Kosilek, born as Robert, is a transgender individual who identifies as female and who wishes for her physical sex to match her gender. The problem is, she murdered her wife in 1990.

The Massachusetts Department of Correction does not wish to pay for sexual reassignment surgery. Kosilek argues that not doing so amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. She has twice previously attempted suicide and self-castration (all while awaiting trial for murder) and lesser treatments (hormones and psychotherapy) have not relieved her mental anguish over her gender identity disorder.

In 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf ordered the state to pay for the surgery. Earlier this year, a split First Circuit panel upheld that decision, 2-1. But today, an en banc court reversed in an opinion penned by the original panel's dissenter, while the two majority judges from the prior panel decision penned dissents.

Lawsuit Against Anti-Gay Pastor Over Ugandan Activism May Proceed

Scott Lively has traveled the world speaking up against the "gay agenda." He has given speeches everywhere from Oregon, to Moscow, to Kampala. But it was his speeches in Uganda that had the greatest impact.

After giving a series of lectures on how homosexuals supposedly prey on children, Ugandan officials passed an extremely harsh anti-gay law that makes homosexuality a crime punishable by life in prison in some instances (earlier drafts included death as a penalty). After the bill was passed, waves of vigilante violence swept the country against suspected gay individuals.

Now, he'll face a crimes-against-humanity lawsuit over his contribution to the fervor after the First Circuit denied his request for a writ of mandamus to dismiss the lawsuit, reports The Republican.

Jehovah's Witnesses Can Proselytize in Gated Communities: 1st Cir.

In response to a series of violent crimes, Puerto Rico enacted a law allowing municipalities to erect gates enclosing public streets. The gates were manned by security guards, and those that weren't staffed by humans required a resident key to enter.

So, who's claiming that these gates infringe on their right to evangelize door-to-door? Drum roll, please ... it's Jehovah's Witnesses!

Federal Judge in Puerto Rico Upholds Same-Sex Marriage Ban

It's not all sunshine, smiles, and drinks with little umbrellas in them in Puerto Rico today. Yesterday, a federal district judge upheld the territory's ban on same-sex marriage, placing Puerto Rico in threadbare company with Louisiana as the only two jurisdictions whose federal courts upheld a state or territorial same-sex marriage ban.

Unlike the Louisiana court, however, Judge Juan M. Perez-Gimenez dismissed on "procedural" grounds.