9th Circuit Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Ninth Circuit
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The Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, reheard oral arguments last Tuesday in the case of Peruta v. San Diego County, a controversial challenge to California's concealed carry laws. In California, concealed carry -- the possession of a concealed firearm in public -- is generally prohibited, with permits issued only when one can show just cause for needing to take their gun out for a walk through the town square. Personal safety alone is not enough.

Two Ninth Circuit judges struck down that rule in February, 2014, holding that the "right to bear arms includes the right to carry an operable firearm outside the home for the lawful purpose of self-defense." The en banc rehearing could repudiate that decision.

Just in time for the release of the third season of "Orange is the New Black," the Ninth Circuit has decided an important case involving the governance of women's prisons. If you're a fan of the show, you'll remember that last season, one female prisoner was impregnated by a guard.

Such a plot point wouldn't be possible were the show set in Washington state, where state law prevents male correctional officers from working in many positions in women's prisons. That restriction isn't prohibited sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Ninth Circuit ruled last Friday.

Brett Pensinger, a teen-aged killer who was sentenced to death for the kidnapping and murder of a five-month-old more than 30 years ago, won't be executed after the Ninth Circuit overturned his death sentence on Tuesday. In 1981, the 19-year-old Pensinger kidnapped a San Bernadino infant and her brother. The brother was dropped off unharmed, but the infant was found murdered and mutilated.

Pensinger was subsequently convicted of murder, with a kidnapping and torture enhancement, and sentenced to death. However, the jury was given improper instructions, leading to the overturning of his sentence many years later.

Idaho's ban on abortions that occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy has been struck down as unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit. That law placed an arbitrary time limit on abortions before viability, the Court found, and violated women's constitutional right to obtain an abortion before fetal viability.

The case arose after Idaho prosecuted a single mother of three for inducing her own abortion. The Ninth had recently struck down a similar law in Arizona, but several other states have enacted laws limiting abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy.

The Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed an earlier injunction preventing Google and YouTube from hosting the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" film. That short, offensive and highly controversial film lead to violence and rioting in Egypt and elsewhere. It was briefly blamed for the attack on a U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Cindy Garcia, one of the actresses whose performance was manipulated in the film, had originally convinced the Ninth Circuit that she had a copyright interest in her scene, resulting in the take down order. That widely criticized decision was reversed today, with the court ruling that the prior decision got not just copyright law, but the First Amendment wrong.

Jury instructions that impermissibly merged first-degree murder's mens rea elements violated due process, the Ninth Circuit ruled last Friday. As a result, they invalidated the 1990 murder conviction and death sentence of Billy Ray Riley based on faulty jury instructions.

The guilt-phase instructions advised the jury that if it found premeditation, it has found deliberation. Those are two separate elements, however, and the state needed to prove each one, according to the Ninth.

Environmental and community advocates won't be able to force stricter pesticide emissions restrictions in California, the Ninth Circuit ruled on Friday. A coalition of groups, lead by El Comite para el Bienestar de Earlimart, had challenged the state's Clean Air Act pesticide regulations, arguing that they did not reduce emissions enough and would lead to excessive levels of exposure for Latino youth.

The regulations in question were first proposed in 1994 to ensure compliance with the Clean Air Act. Under California's State Implementation Plan (SIP), certain pesticide emissions were to be reduced by up to 20 percent of their 1990 levels by 2005. It wasn't until 2012, however, that the EPA determined that the California SIP included enforceable regulations.

In 2004, in response to inmate violence, California State Prison at Corcoran instituted harsh restrictions on prisoners -- especially black prisoners. When an inmate sued, the jury was instructed that, while the restrictions should be judged by strict scrutiny, jurors should also give deference to prison officials' decisions. That's some sort of scrutiny, but it's not a strict one, the Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday.

In doing so, the court was forced to navigate somewhat conflicting Supreme Court precedents. On the one hand, strict scrutiny applies to racial classifications in prison. On the other hand, the Supreme Court has also ruled that courts must give deference to correctional officials when it comes ensuring the safety of prisoners. That deference, the Ninth found, doesn't reach far enough to touch equal protection claims.

For the first time in awhile, Arizona seems to be getting a break when it comes to its voter registration laws. The state had been slapped down in the Supreme Court after requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration just two years ago. Last year, they lost a similar suit in the 10th Circuit over federal registration forms (no, they didn't move -- they just joined Kansas in that lawsuit).

Turns out the third time's a charm for the Grand Canyon state. The Ninth Circuit has upheld their vote registration form against allegations that it unconstitutionally discriminated against third parties.

Marijuana will remain on the federal list of Schedule I drugs, next to heroin and LSD. After a five day evidentiary trial, the District Court for the Eastern District of California denied a motion to dismiss an indictment involving marijuana growing, which challenged the classification was unconstitutional.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, Schedule I drugs are those which have a high potential of abuse and "no currently accepted medical use." Defense lawyers for 16 men accused of growing marijuana challenged the listing of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, arguing that it violated the Tenth Amendment's limitations on federal power. Marijuana is legal for medical use in 23 states.