Short Circuit: A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions
Please enjoy the latest edition of Short Circuit, a weekly feature from the Institute for Justice.
Attention D.C.-area folks! The Short Circuit podcast is heading to the National Press Club on Wednesday, April 6 at 6:30 p.m. to record a live show with Paul Clement, Lisa Blatt, and Kelsi Brown Corkran. RSVP today!
- Beginning in 1971, The New York Times published excerpts of the Pentagon Papers that laid bare the U.S.’s Vietnam efforts, including JFK’s role in South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem’s assassination and LBJ’s “we seek no wider war” lies. Nixon investigates how the documents were obtained and disseminated, and a grand jury subpoenas a Harvard political scientist who refuses to testify, is held in contempt, and spends eight days in jail. Seems like a riveting read! But a Harvard historian finds herself unable to obtain the grand jury records, as they are under indefinite seal. First Circuit (adding to a circuit split): Under seal the records shall remain.
- In 2018, a Massachusetts state judge and her courtroom deputy allegedly snuck an illegal immigrant out the back of a courthouse while an ICE agent waited for him in the front. A clever ruse! But also a federal crime? First Circuit: You’ll have to find out at trial. Neither the doctrine of judicial immunity nor the Tenth Amendment, which bars the feds from commandeering state officials to carry out federal policy, give us jurisdiction to throw out the indictments beforehand. Though maybe this prosecution could have been a meeting instead.
- Investment analyst learns through work that a private-equity company wants to buy the home-security company ADT. Based on this inside information, he buys $25,000 worth of ADT call options, which skyrocket in value by 6,000% the day the acquisition is announced. After he’s convicted of insider trading, his employer seeks restitution under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act for legal fees incurred while cooperating with the feds. Second Circuit: And they can get them for their participation in the criminal investigation and trial, but not for the related SEC civil investigation.
- Allegations: Prison guard knowingly mislabels prisoner a sex offender (the prison had a special “Sex Offender” T-shirt), putting the man in fear of being brutalized by his fellow inmates. Prisoner sues officer, claiming Eighth Amendment violation. Third Circuit: We could, perhaps, kick the entire case on Bivens grounds (new context, etc. etc.). But we’ll do the prisoner (and the development of the law) the courtesy of addressing at least part of his Eighth Amendment claim directly. He loses: There’s no Eighth Amendment right not to be forced to wear a sex-offender T-shirt in prison. Also, while the prisoner plausibly alleged that the guard unconstitutionally failed to protect him from attacks, he can’t get damages for the guard’s failure to protect him from attacks that never happened.
- Navy SEALs and other servicemembers challenge COVID-19 vaccination requirement, asserting that it violates their sincerely held religious beliefs. Turns out that the Navy has a 50-step process for adjudicating such accommodation requests that invariably results in their denial. District Court: Which sure sounds like a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Fifth Circuit: Agreed. The Navy’s request for a stay of the preliminary
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