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

Notre Dame has again been denied injunctive relief in its challenge to Obamacare's contraceptive mandate. The Catholic university had claimed that being connected in even the most minor way to the provision of birth control to its faculty and students violated its religious beliefs.

Last March, the Seventh Circuit refused to grant Notre Dame an injunction protecting it from the Affordable Care Act's mandate, prompting the Supreme Court to send the case back for reconsideration in light of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The Seventh reconsidered and announced yesterday that it was right the first time around.

The Girl Scouts are known far and wide for their cookies, but the Girl Scouts proved to be less than sweet when it came to Megan Runnion.

Runnion, a deaf girl, received sign language interpreters in order to help her participate in Girl Scout activities. When the Girl Scouts pulled the interpreters, Runnion's mother complained. The Girls Scouts' response? They disbanded her troop. Megan's mother alleged that ran afoul of a federal law called the Rehabilitation Act.

When Stephanie Miller proposed a condo development in the Madison suburb of Monona, Wisconsin, she soon discovered how quickly small town politics could get in her way. After a falling out with a former mayor over another development, her proposed condos suddenly faced a very rocky approval process. Miller found herself subject to a slew of roadblocks.

Eventually she went to court, alleging that she had been discriminated against as a "class-of-one." Miller alleged that she was being selectively prosecuted and that city officials had singled her out for unfavorable treatment, without a rational basis, when compared to similarly situated persons, such as the former major's son, whose developments had gone ahead without a hitch.

Highland Park's assault weapon ban does not violate the Second Amendment, the Seventh Circuit ruled on Monday. The ritzy Chicagoland suburb had banned the weapons in 2013, in part to evade a state law which would have prevented future legislation on such bans. The issue was so contentious at the time that residents skipped the Stanley Cup finals to debate the issue.

Judge Easterbrook wrote the opinion, with Judge Williams joining and Manion dissenting. The two justice majority asserted that Supreme Court precedent should not be read like legislation, governing the totality of Second Amendment rights, and that many questions regarding weapons, crime and self-defense are best left to the political process.

The Free Exercise Clause lets practitioners of Santeria in Florida ritually slaughter chickens, and lets a Muslim inmate have a half-inch-long beard.

Add David Schlemm to the list. He's a member of the Navajo tribe, imprisoned in Wisconsin, who wants to be able to practice certain religious rituals, namely eating venison and wearing a multicolored bandana while praying.

And you know what? The Seventh Circuit, led by Judge Frank Easterbrook, said OK.

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.