6th Circuit Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Sixth Circuit
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Loud, unpopular, even hateful speech is still speech and it still deserves First Amendment protections. That's the gist of a recent Sixth Circuit case dealing with the classic "heckler's veto" or the ability of an angry crowd to shut down an unpopular speaker.

In this particular case, the hecklers were attendees of the Arab International Festival who were harangued by a pigs-head-on-a-stick wielding "group of self-described Christian evangelists preaching hate and denigration," according to the Sixth Circuit. When the crowd responded with violence, the evangelists were removed, a decision that the court held violated their First Amendment rights.

A religious child-care provider, whose biggest client was the state of Kentucky, will be able to continue a longstanding lawsuit a bit longer, thanks to a Sixth Circuit ruling on Monday. Sunrise Children's Services provides group housing, foster care placement and other services to Kentucky children in state custody. Those services come with a heavy dose of religious coercion, according to critics.

Those critics sued 15 years ago, alleging that the state was violating the Establishment Clause by contracting with Sunrise. After 13 years of fruitless litigation, the state and its critics finally entered into a settlement -- but only over Sunrises' objections. Now, Sunrise is entitled to make those objections heard in court, the Sixth Circuit ruled.

Call it a case of "I fought the lawn and the lawn won." A homeowner in Howell, Michigan, has been fined after he refused to mow the grass on the curb strip in front of his house -- and the Sixth Circuit is on board with that.

David Shoemaker had refused to maintain the area between the sidewalk and street in front of his house after the city cut down a tree over his objections. Unwilling to put up with the site of unkempt, eight-inch-plus grass, Howell hired a lawn company to manicure the strip. Then they sent Shoemaker the bill.

The Sixth Circuit was always the outlier when it came to same-sex marriage. Over the past two years, the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have all found a constructional right to same-sex marriage. Meanwhile the Sixth went it alone, rejecting the plaintiffs' claim that refusing to allow them to marry violated their equal protection and due process rights.

That ruling was overturned today, as the Supreme Court announced this morning that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage.

In a case where the Tennessee Department of Children's Services sought to remove two children from their father, the father sought to remove the case to federal court. The removal of the children, and termination of parental rights, may well go ahead, but removal to federal court cannot, the Sixth Circuit ruled on Monday.

When the Department filed a petition to terminate Shaun Winesburgh's parental rights over his two children due to neglect and severe abuse, he claimed they were discriminating against him based on his mental disability and sought to remove the case to federal court. According to the Sixth, however, his federal counterclaims and invocation of civil rights removal provisions were insufficient to take his case out of state court.

Constitutional violations are injuries in and of themselves and prisoners asserting them do not have to allege a concomitant physical injury, the Sixth Circuit ruled on Monday. That means that such suits are not prohibited by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which prohibits prisoners from asserting 1983 claims alleging only mental or emotional injuries. A violation of one's First Amendment rights is a separate injury, not limited by the PLRA's preclusion.

The Sixth's ruling puts it in the more permissive side of a long standing circuit split over whether prisoners can sue for constitutional violations that did not result in physical injury. Following yesterday's ruling, not only will prisoners' constitutional claims survive the PLRA, prisoners may also be entitled to compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief.

6th Cir. Creates Split in Private Searches on Computers

What are the limits of the "private search doctrine" when it comes to a computer? The Sixth Circuit answered that question last week in a case that is sure to make it to the Supreme Court.

Aaron Lichtenberger was arrested for failing to register as a sex offender. His girlfriend, wondering why she was never allowed to use his computer, hacked into it and found images of child pornography. She notified the authorities, police obtained a warrant to search the computer, which led to more pornography. The Sixth Circuit, however, suppressed all this evidence as the product of an unconstitutional search.

Police Can't Arrest Gun Owner Just for Open Carry Gun: 6th Cir

What good is a law allowing the open carrying of handguns when the police are just going to arrest you for it? Shawn and Denise Northrup of Toledo, Ohio were just walking their dog one evening when a motorcyclist saw them and yelled, "You can't walk around with a gun like that!"

For, you see, Shawn was walking the dog while armed with a semiautomatic handgun. The motorcyclist, Alan Rose, called the police, who confirmed that it was legal to carry openly in Ohio, but nevertheless sent an officer out to investigate.

After Leslie Ashmore, a convicted felon, was found in possession of firearms, he was tried for violating federal law and sentenced to 20 years in prison. On appeal however, he earned a new trial, since the court had improperly introduced evidence that was obtained through the use of a two step Miranda technique meant to undermine the effectiveness of Ashmore's Miranda rights.

One October night, police found Ashmore passed out in his vehicle, alongside drug paraphernalia. A search of the car revealed two firearms, safely tucked away in a lock box for which Ashmore had the key. Two weeks later, a team of 10 to 20 officers, including the city's SWAT time, was deployed to arrest Ashmore. Special Agent Jamie Jenkins questioned Ashmore as to whether there were any guns in the car he was arrested in -- before he received his Miranda warnings.

6th Cir: Ky. 300-Foot Polling Place Buffer Zone Unconstitutional

Kentucky law prohibits electioneering signs within 300 feet of a polling place -- or, at least, it did until October, when a federal judge held the law unconstitutional, finding that the 300-foot restriction was much larger than necessary to combat the evils of voter coercion and intimidation.

Today, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling, finding the statute facially invalid under the First Amendment for prohibiting way more speech than was necessary.