7th Circuit Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Seventh Circuit
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Recent Civil Rights Law Decisions

In a pair of cases in March, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously struck down the state's eavesdropping law. Illinois was a two-party consent state, meaning both parties had to consent to the recording. As interpreted by the court, however, the law's fatal flaw was that it also applied to speech made even in a place where people had no privacy expectation -- like out in public.

Apparently not one to say "no," both houses of Illinois' legislature passed a new version of the law that critics say suffers from the same constitutional defects as the old one.

Illinois of course prohibits people under 21 from drinking alcohol. Except that it's permitted "in the performance of a religious ceremony or service." Students attending ostensibly religious functions (a.k.a. "parties") at the Tannenbaum Chabad house at Northwestern University did indeed consume alcohol there -- so much, in fact, that one student had to be hospitalized for excessive consumption.

A discrimination suit against the university arose after Chabad's advisor, Rabbi Klein, failed to make any changes to the house, resulting in the university "disaffiliating" itself from Chabad and barring Klein from contracting with a food company called Sodexo to provide rabbinic supervision over its kosher food.

A federal district court dismissed the case, and so too did the Seventh Circuit.

Robin Meade was an adjunct professor at Moraine Valley Community College in the Chicago suburbs. While we recently blogged about why lawyers might want to be adjuncts, Meade was none too pleased with the way the college treated her and other adjuncts. She said so in a letter to the college, signed by her in her capacity as president of the Moraine Valley Adjunct Faculty Organization (MVAFO).

Two days later, Meade was fired. The college made it clear that she was fired for the letter she wrote. She sued -- which you'd do, right? Seems like the college retaliated for exercising her First Amendment rights. Incredibly, though, the district court dismissed her complaint for failure to state a claim.

Let's step back a second and take a look at where Wisconsin's voter ID law is. On September 12, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments on the validity of Wisconsin's voter ID law. Almost immediately afterward, the panel stayed the district court's injunction, allowing Wisconsin to enforce the law. Several groups requested a rehearing on the stay, which the court denied, along with a sua sponte request by one of the Seventh Circuit judges to rehear the motion en banc. On October 6, the panel issued its opinion finding the law constitutional.

Then on October 9, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a short order -- with a dissent from Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas -- vacating the September 12 order, preventing Wisconsin from enforcing the law for this election. A day later, the Seventh Circuit denied Judge Richard Posner's sua sponte request to rehear the case en banc.

So here's where we are in the saga of Wisconsin's voter ID law. Last month, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments on the legality of the state law requiring, like many states' laws these days, state-issued photo IDs in order to vote. Hours after the oral arguments, the panel issued an order staying enforcement of the district court's order -- meaning the state can enforce the law pending outcome of the appeal.

The ACLU sought an emergency motion to reconsider the stay. Yesterday, the court issued its opinion on this motion: The panel denied the motion, along with a sua sponte request to rehear the motion en banc (because the request for an en banc rehearing was a 5-5 split, the en banc rehearing was denied) in a contentious opinion that saw a dissent by the five judges in favor of rehearing.

An ordinance in Springfield, Illinois, prohibits panhandling in the historic downtown shopping district. The ordinance is specific in that panhandling is an oral request for money right now -- not an immediate request for money via a sign or an oral request for money at a later date.

Don Norton and Karen Otterson are panhandlers who've been arrested numerous times for violating the ordinance. On appeal to the Seventh Circuit, they claimed that the ordinance infringed on their First Amendment rights.

On Friday, the Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments in Frank v. Walker and seemed unimpressed by arguments against Wisconsin's voter ID law. In fact, the judges were so unimpressed that the panel issued an order, mere hours later, granting a stay pending appeal (allowing the voter ID requirements to go into effect mere weeks before November's elections).

Now, the ACLU is seeking an expedited en banc rehearing, hoping that arguments about the impossibility of instituting a voter ID requirement at the last minute without disenfranchising thousands of voters will sway the full court.

On Friday, a panel of the Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments in Frank v. Walker, a challenge to Wisconsin's voter ID law (listen to an MP3 here).

Following oral arguments, the panel issued an order allowing enforcement of the state's voter ID law, which means the law will likely be in effect during the upcoming November 4 election.

Predictably, both Indiana and Wisconsin are appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court following their blistering loss last week at the Seventh Circuit.

At both oral arguments and in the written opinion, Judge Richard Posner did almost as much damage to them as Tom Brady did to my fantasy football team over the weekend.

Here's a look at what the two states are arguing in their petitions:

A month after the Wisconsin Supreme Court voiced its opinion on two challenges to Wisconsin's Voter ID law, the Seventh Circuit is set to hear an appeal of a district court's ruling that the law is unconstitutional.

Wisconsin's High Court ruled in favor of the law, against two different challenges brought by the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, which has some wondering if the Seventh Circuit will follow suit.

An unusual caveat in the Wisconsin Supreme Court's opinion -- that voter identification must be free -- could also come into play.