9th Circuit Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Ninth Circuit
U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Recently in Civil Rights Law Category

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.

Corporations and other non-human associations don't have a First Amendment right to serve as official proponents of ballot initiatives, the Ninth Circuit held in a unanimous en banc ruling last Friday. The case involved a local law in Chula Vista, a San Diego suburb, which required that proponents of ballot measures be electors -- in other words, actual humans.

With corporate personhood extending at least to encompass political speech, via political spending, commentators wondered if that personhood could stretch to actual legislative power. The Ninth wasn't willing to take things that far.

The case continues the process of clarifying the political rights afforded corporations following the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United.

The Supreme Court won't be hearing an appeal from high school students who sued after school administrators asked them to remove American flag T-shirts or take excused leave. That leaves intact the Ninth Circuit's ruling from a year ago, holding that the school did not violate the students' rights when it asked them to change their clothing in an attempt to avoid violence.

Plaintiffs, three students from Morgan Hill in northern California, had argued that their First Amendment free speech rights were violated when they were asked to cover up their flags on Cinco de Mayo while students in Mexican flags were not.

Eddie Bauer, the struggling outdoor retailer, got some more bad news last Friday, when the Ninth Circuit ruled that a consumer's ADA lawsuit against the company had been wrongly dismissed. Chris Kohler, a disabled man who relies upon a wheelchair for mobility, had sued Eddie Bauer for violations of the ADA.

The district court had concluded that Kohler needed expert opinions to determine whether conditions constituted ADA barriers. That's wrong, the Ninth Circuit ruled, emphasizing that non-expert estimations are perfectly acceptable in ADA suits.

Seattle's prohibition of bus-side advertisements criticizing funding of the Israeli military doesn't violate the advertisers' free speech, the Ninth Circuit ruled last Wednesday. The ads, sponsored by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, had originally been accepted by the bus authority, but were rejected after public controversy. The ads were to read "Israeli War Crimes -- Your Tax Dollars at Work."

The Ninth Circuit's finding that the bus program was a limited public forum breaks from rulings in other courts. The Sixth, Third, Second, Seventh and D.C. Circuits have all found similar transit advertising programs to be designated public forums, with significantly strong free speech rights.