3rd Circuit Civil Rights Law News - U.S. Third Circuit
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Abortion Clinic 'Buffer Zone' Case Revived by 3rd Circuit

The Third Circuit has revived a controversial buffer zone free speech case that challenged Pittsburgh's local ordinance establishing a 15-foot zone around abortion clinics. The zone was created to provide easier access for patients seeking to enter clinics without being verbally accosted by protesters and pro-life advocates.

It was not even a close call as the circuit voted 3-0, saying that protesters had a valid cause of action to pursue a suit against the city on theories that their free speech rights were violated under the Constitution.

Does Old, Converted Housing Have to Comply With Fair Housing Act?

It's a fair question that deserves to be asked: does old but converted housing have to comply with the Fair Housing Act?

No, say federal courts... so long as those converted buildings are built before March 13, 1991.

Another Circuit Court Rules Against Nude Bars

It's been a tough time for business owners who want to open exotic dancing businesses. Both the Seventh Circuit and the a New Jersey appeals court handed down decisions that disfavored the legal arguments put forth by business owners who sought to open strip clubs in their respective towns.

Boy, can't someone run an honest nude bar anymore?

A civil rights lawsuit over the New York Police Department's post-September 11th spying on Muslims in New Jersey was reinstated on Tuesday in a Third Circuit opinion. A group of Muslim plaintiffs had alleged that the program unconstitutionally treated their religion as a "proxy for criminality," resulting in "pervasive surveillance not visited upon ... any other religious faith or the public at large."

Under the program, New York police officers infiltrated Muslim groups, from student associates to mosques, in New York City and beyond, videotaping them and tracking their activities. In allowing the suit to go forward, the Third Circuit opinion drew parallels between the spying, the Cold War's Red Scare, and the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II.

Congratulations are in order to the Nurse Ratcheds of the world. The Third Circuit ruled Tuesday that New Jersey can forcibly medicate institutionalized, mentally ill patients in state custody.

The appeal came after Disability Rights New Jersey challenged the forced-medication, arguing that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the patients' due process rights. The Third Circuit disagreed, finding that the institutionalized were not discriminated against and had sufficient process available before being medicated.

No Anticipatory Invocation of Miranda, Says Penn. Sup. Ct.

Ever since Miranda v. Arizona, the right to remain silent, and its companion, the right to have an attorney present during questioning, has been walked back both by the U.S. Supreme Court and various state supreme courts.

Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a person can't invoke his Fifth Amendment right to counsel under Miranda in anticipation of police questioning. Along with a recent decision of the California Supreme Court, Pennsylvania's decision moves Miranda's temporal period in favor of the police.

3rd Cir. Upholds Porn Recordkeeping Requirements

In an attempt to make porn distributors police themselves, Congress passed into law 18 USC 2257, which requires that they keep records of all their performers so they can prove no one in their employ is underage. They also must produce these records at the government's request, or permit the government to inspect them at any time.

Porn companies think this requirement is onerous and violates the First and Fourth Amendments. The Third Circuit actually agreed, to some extent, at least as to the Fourth Amendment argument.

3rd Cir. Affirms Dismissal of 4th and 14 Am. Claims Against Police

Though noting that "the underlying circumstances of the case are tragic," the Third Circuit last week nonetheless affirmed a district court's dismissal of a case in favor of the police.

The case involves Tabitha Gonzalez, who was having an asthma attack, and two Philadelphia police officers. Tabitha had the attack in her front yard, and police responded to the house following a report of "a person screaming" at the house. Though the family had made five "understandably frantic" calls to 911, the police were never made aware that the screaming and the medical emergency were related.

Zachary Wilson, a prisoner in Pennsylvania whose murder convictions have twice been overturned, will not yet be able to challenge a third prosecution. Before the court may hear his federal Rule 60(b) motion, Wilson must first exhausting his state court claims, the Third Circuit ruled on Monday.

Wilson had been convicted of two murders in Philadelphia in the early 1980s, only to have those convictions overturned decades later. He remained in prison for years, under arrest for the same murders whose convictions had just been vacated, but was not arraigned until 10 years later.

3rd Cir. Follows Others in Upholding ACA Contraceptive Exemption

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act's religious exemption to contraceptive coverage suffered a setback today, as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court's determination that even the religious exemption runs afoul of the First Amendment.

The Third Circuit's opinion falls in line with opinions from other circuits last year, holding that the religious exemption to contraceptive coverage doesn't allow an employer to prevent an employee from ever obtaining contraceptives.