Short Circuit: A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions
Please enjoy the latest edition of Short Circuit, a weekly feature written by a bunch of people at the Institute for Justice.
For over 150 years, Vermont parents have been able to use a tuition stipend to send their kids to the K-12 school of their choice, private or public, if their local school district doesn’t provide instruction for their child’s grade-level—a unique program to address the costly problem of educating children in rural areas. Some parents even send their kids to Canada! And this month, a federal judge signed off on a consent decree that allows families to—once again—use the stipends at religious schools. Mazel tov! Click here to learn more.
- Feds: Hey Second Circuit, could you issue a revised opinion in this drug sentencing case? We want you to make clear that the part that could help out future New York criminal defendants was dictum. Second Circuit: Dictum? We hardly know ’em! (Which is more substantive legal analysis than your bad-faith argument deserves.)
- In 2005, New Jersey man is convicted in state court of aggravated assault for shooting someone four times in the back. But was this a crime of violence for the purposes of a sentencing enhancement under Section 4B1.2(a) of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines? The Third Circuit consults learned treatises, among other sources, and determines the answer is yes.
- In First Step Act “safety valve” news the Fourth Circuit adds its name to the “and means and and not or” column. It joins the Ninth and Eleventh Circuits, while staring at them across the other side of the “will no one rid me of this troublesome split” are the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits.
- Man robs an Asheville, N.C. barbecue joint and then pleads guilty to both federal robbery conspiracy and a charge for firing a gun during the robbery. Court decisions years later say the conspiracy charge can’t support the gun charge (though actual robbery could). Fourth Circuit: Under current law, his gun charge would be invalid, so it must go. Dissent: He should have to show the outcome would actually have been different if the plea bargain had played out under current law, and he can’t because nobody doubts he committed robbery while firing a gun.
- Tip for agricultural and laboratory employers: If you want to discourage undercover animal-cruelty investigators from gaining employment under false pretenses so they can secretly record video and release it to the public, just go the old-fashioned route and require your employees to sign non-disclosure agreements. Because if you instead rely on the state to create a special cause of action to deal with the problem, there’s going to be a lengthy and complicated judicial opinion about whether this new cause of action violates the First Amendment. See, e.g., the Fourth Circuit‘s recent opinion in PETA v. Stein, holding, by a 2-1 vote, that North Carolina’s Property Protection Act is largely unconstitutional.
- Don Blankenship made his name as a West Virginia coal baron whose failure to abide by mine safety laws led to the death of 29 miners and his later conviction on conspiracy charges. More recently, he ran for U.S. Senate, losing spectacularly while also producing one of the wackiest campaign ads of all time. Following his ignominious defeat, Blankenship brought defamation claims against every journalist who had the gall to refer to him as a felon—one convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year of incarceration—when he was actually a misdemeanant sentenced to exactly a year of incarceration. Fourth Circuit: “[A]t the end of the day, the record does not contain evidence that the commentators and journalists responsible for the statements were anything more than confused about how to describe a person who served a year in prison for a federal offense,” which means no actual malice and no claims.
- Is a South Carolina law that prohibits conducting oneself “in a disorderly or boisterous manner” unconstitutionally vague as applied to school children? Given that the state refers hundreds of them for p
Article from Reason.com