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

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson's suit challenging Obamacare's changes to congressional health plans was dismissed by the Seventh Circuit for lack of standing on Tuesday. Johnson and his legislative counsel had sued after the Affordable Care Act resulted in changes to their healthcare options, including federal subsidies for their health care plans. Johnson, however, had purchased his own private healthcare instead of participating in the federal program.

The two couldn't show an injury, needed to provide standing to sue, a unanimous Seventh Circuit ruled. The government had simply provided them a benefit which they refused.

Indiana has been in the news for the last week, and not for a good reason. Last week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence quietly signed into law the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which in many ways mirrors similar statutes enacted in 19 other states.

Gay rights advocates pointed out, however, that the Indiana law differs significantly from other laws in that it may allow "religious freedom" as a defense to discrimination even in civil causes of action, and even allows corporations to discriminate, with the ability to assert religion as a defense.

The Seventh Circuit last week allowed a prisoner's lawsuit to proceed, overruling a district court that tossed the case on summary judgment.

Marshall King, a county jail prisoner in Illinois, was forced to wear a transparent jumpsuit "that exposed his genitals and buttocks" while being transferred to state prison. The requirement appeared to be unique to King's jail, as other prisoners being transferred weren't wearing such outfits. When King complained to guards about the jumpsuit, they laughed at him.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday that it is sending the University of Notre Dame's lawsuit over contraception coverage back to the Seventh Circuit for reconsideration. The Catholic university had objected to the Affordable Care Act's "compromise" provisions for religious institutions, which allowed them to opt out of covering their employees' contraception directly.

According to Notre Dame, even the act of opting out was too much and substantially burdened their religious freedom. The Seventh Circuit, which had rejected the argument, must now reconsider it in light of the High Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which found that tightly held corporations could be exempt from laws based on the religious objections of their owners.

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.