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

No Racial Slurs Allowed by Chicago School, Teacher Firing Upheld

In the ironically-named case of Brown v. Board of Ed., a teacher who was suspended from his position for using the N word in his classroom (for educational purposes) has no First Amendment claim, according to the recent Seventh Circuit ruling. Also, for related reasons, the court says the teacher suffered no violation of his due process. It's Brown v. Board of Education again, but it still has yet another layer of appeal left to go.

The ruling will upset many of those who have pointed out repeatedly the gray line that exists between proper use of language in a setting that has restricted Free Speech interests.

7th Circuit Affirms Combined Convictions Against Child Abuser

A divided Seventh Circuit affirmed both child abuse and felony gun use convictions against admitted abuser David Resnick in a split decision that implicates the admissibility of polygraph information -- or rather, evidence of the defendant's refusal to submit to a polygraph.

But although the affirmation may strike many as being the proper outcome, the Fifth Amendment implications the opinion raises should really give even the most casual reader pause.

Wisconsin Polling of Jury During Trial Leads to Mistrial

A criminal defendant is entitled to a polling of the jury after a verdict has been reached and announced. But one slip of how the polling is done could basically necessitate a whole new trial. And this is exactly what happened in a Wisconsin federal district court.

The case below discusses interesting aspects of the Fifth Amendment's "overly coercive" doctrine.

When Wisconsin passed a voter ID law in 2011, requiring voters to present photo identification at the voting booth, opponents argued that the law unfairly punished those who had difficulty obtaining photo IDs. Such laws often make voting disproportionately difficult for minorities and the poor. But when those opponents sued, they lost. The Seventh Circuit ruled that the entire law cannot be enjoined just because "some voters faced undue difficulties."

But in a ruling by Judge Easterbrook on Tuesday, the Seventh Circuit breathed new life into the laws challenge, finding that individuals who faced extreme difficulty in obtaining a photo ID could still challenge the law.

Indiana's Child Services Is Immune From FLSA Suit

In the recent case Martinez v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services, the Seventh Circuit upheld a long held doctrine in the law: sovereign powers cannot be sued in federal court unless there is an alleged violation of the state's constitution or the U.S. Constitution.

Alternatively, the state can consent to being sued, but how often does that happen?

A Wisconsin law requires convicted sex offenders who have been released from civil commitment to wear a GPS ankle bracelet all day, every day, for the rest of their lives. And that is not an unconstitutional violation of their privacy, the Seventh Circuit ruled recently.

The ankle monitor sends daily reports of the offender's movements to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, who can then use the information to connect offenders to reported sexual assaults.

A Putnam County, Indiana, sheriff's deputy who was convicted for excessive force won't get off with just a 14-month sentence, the Seventh Circuit ruled last Thursday. Calling the sentence "light," when compared to similar cases, the court demanded that sheriff's deputy Terry Joe Smith be resentenced.

Smith was convicted following a series of violent episodes in 2012, characterized by the court as "violent, gratuitous, and sadistic," which included beating subdued, unresisting, and handcuffed suspects.

Ramadan Meals Case Revived by 7th Cir.

The Seventh Circuit revived a free exercise of religion case in which a Muslim inmate sued his jailers for interfering with his observance of Ramadan by withholding "special meals."

The circuit vacated the lower court's summary judgment in favor of the defendant. According to the court, making a prisoner choose between food and religion is a substantial burden on his free exercise.

Beer Sellers Aren't a 'Suspect Class,' 7th Cir. Rules

How do you keep underage teens from drinking beer? Obviously, by limiting the sale of cold beer to taverns, liquor stores, and bars! That's right, temperature is the key.

At least that's the argument promulgated by the state of Indiana. The Seventh Circuit said, "Sure, yeah right." And as weird as the rationale behind the law sounds, the real issue is whether or not it is fair to ban the sale of cold beer in some businesses and not in others. We challenge you to find weirder equal protection violation allegation before the year is out.

What happens when a seniority-based job assignment system comes into conflict with the needs of disabled workers? Seniority wins, at least in a recent ADA lawsuit against United Airlines.

In that suit, a disabled United ramp serviceman failed to show "special circumstances" that would require United to make an exception to its seniority system, the Seventh Circuit ruled.