Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Tenth Circuit
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When Does a Campaign Ad Qualify as an 'Electioneering Communication'?

Citizens United has been vilified by the media over the yeas as the case that encapsulated the infamous "money equals speech" mantra, a statement that has been postered as the cynical influence of shadowy money influencing politics. Well, the much skimmed over dicta of the case just got a shot in the arm by the Tenth Circuit.

According to the circuit, the public has an "informational interests" ala Citizens that requires disclosure of donors that pay for ads that even mention candidates in the days leading up to an election. And everybody likes disclosure, right?

Professor Discrimination Case Remanded by Tenth Cir.

The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded a race employment discrimination case back to the lower court on Friday, providing an opportunity for the plaintiff to better craft his complaint against his former employer, Northeastern State University.

In doing so, the Court offered a nifty little guide regarding how federal courts must consider the actions of each defendant on an individual basis when determining whether or not that defendant is entitled to qualified immunity.

Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn Brown, along with the shared husband Kody, were just simple people going about their own business (and starring in the reality show 'Sister Wives') when they came under investigation for polygamy. The Browns weren't charged with a crime, but they challenged Utah's longstanding polygamy ban nonetheless -- and they won.

Now, the Sister Wives are taking their pro-polygamy campaign to the Tenth Circuit, which heard oral arguments over the ban today.

Seizing a Prisoner's Guitar Isn't a Due Process Violation

An inmate who was possibly a little too flower-power for his own good had his guitar seizure case dismissed by the Tenth Circuit's Court of Appeals.

In a desperate bid to get his instrument back, the plaintiff started blustering his way through the court system, trying to throw every possible legal theory he had at his case. He lost.

Planned Parenthood is taking its battle with Utah Governor Gary Herbert to the Tenth Circuit. The state branch of the national organization filed an appeal with the circuit court on Sunday, seeking to halt Herbert's denial of nearly $275,000 in federal funds channeled through the state to the group.

Gov. Herbert made the move in response to controversial videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing abortions and fetal tissue. A federal court in Utah upheld the funding change last week, leading to this weekend's appeal.

Snowboarders Cry Foul but Lose Equal Protection Lawsuit

In what has got to be this years' most finicky, hair-splitting case, the Tenth Circuit dismissed a lawsuit by a group of snowboarders who claimed equal protection violations by the U.S. Forest Service whose special-use permit excluded snowboarders but allowed skiers.

In the opinion of U.S. Judge Dee Benson, "the equal protection clause is not a general fairness law that allows anyone who feels discriminated against to bring an action in federal court."

The God-fearing people of Oklahoma can breathe a sigh of relief today, safe in the knowledge that their car license plates do not require them to endorse pantheistic, pagan beliefs -- at least according to the Tenth Circuit. Those Oklahoma plates declare the state, once largely set aside as a tribal reservation, as "Native America" and depict a native man shooting an arrow into the sky.

One Oklahoman Christian took offense at the image, claiming it forced him to communicate a pantheistic message in violation of his free speech and free exercise of religion. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, holding that, while the image does have connections to certain Native American religious beliefs, no reasonable person would think the plate, or those driving the car, were endorsing pantheism.

When we think of free speech in schools, it's often student speech that comes to mind. However, plenty of free speech disputes arise from school employees' public disagreements with their administration. Those cases often involve the balancing of a state employee's interest in participating in public debate against a government employer's interest in an efficient work force.

Last week, the Tenth Circuit ruled that the government's interest outweighs a principal's right to speak out against the closing of a school. In that case, Joyce Rock, a principal in New Mexico, sued after she was fired for publicly opposing the closing of her alternative high school. Her termination was justified, the Tenth said, given the school district's need to speak in a uniform voice on the closing.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, a Republican, didn't violate anyone's civil rights when she cleaned house after taking office, demanding the resignation of employees appointed by her Democratic predecessor. Glenn Smith, the former director of the state Workers' Compensation Administration sued after he was terminated, arguing that he had a right to finish out his five year term.

Unfortunately for Smith, the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding that he served at the will of the Governor and could be let go before his term concluded. Martinez is considered by some to be a likely contender for the GOP's VP pick in 2016.

Everyone makes mistakes. Some folks have one too many drinks before getting behind the wheel. Others fail, allegedly, to follow proper procedure when testing DUI blood draws, leading to retesting 1,700 samples. When Colorado's state toxicology lab had to do just that, they laid the blame publicly on one young lab tech, Mitchell Fox-Rivera.

After he was fired, Fox-Rivera claimed that the government lab improperly impugned his reputation, denying him due process. The Tenth Circuit was less sympathetic to his claims of scapegoating, finding that the comments made, which accused Fox-Rivera of not doing his job properly, did not rise to the level needed to implicate his due process liberty interests.