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.
This week, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill that will allow hair and makeup artists who want to earn a living outside a salon—at weddings, proms, and elsewhere—to do so once they’ve finished a four-hour sanitation course. Currently, the state Board of Cosmetologist Examiners imposes a labyrinth of licensing requirements that takes hundreds of hours to complete and that it polices with heavy fines. Gov. Walz, sign this bill! Read more here.
- Watchdog group sends the Secret Service a FOIA request, seeking records of visitors to the White House and President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. The Secret Service demurs, and the watchdog sues. Second Circuit: Interpreting FOIA to require the president to turn over the identity of everyone he met with at home and work over a seven-week period would cause some pretty big separation of powers problems, and we decline to do so.
- Between February and April of this year, 10 of the 11 candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination terminated or suspended their campaigns. Ordinarily, they still would have appeared on the primary ballot in New York. But in April, New York passes a law authorizing the state’s board of elections to remove those candidates from the ballot. And because only one candidate remained, the state then canceled the primary. Andrew Yang (among others): Changing the rules of the game in that way violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. District court: That’s probably right, so the state must restore all the candidates to the ballot and hold the primary. Second Circuit: Just so.
- Allegation: Industrial waste is emptied into floor drains at Hoosick Falls, N.Y. plastics facility, contaminating surrounding properties, the municipal water supply, and private wells. In a trio of opinions, the Second Circuit allows a variety of claims and a putative class action to proceed. However, a local business that claims only loss of income (without a property damage claim) cannot proceed; caselaw (based on construction-related collapses in Midtown Manhattan) forecloses negligence suits that allege purely economic losses.
- Diabetic inmate submits 12 grievances over the course of three months at Camp Hill, Penn. prison because medical care for festering wound on his already-partially amputated leg is not forthcoming. But staff give him incorrect advice on how to file a grievance and withhold the handbook that explains the process. Ultimately, each grievance is rejected, mostly for technical reasons, and more of his leg must be amputated. A violation of the Constitution or the Americans with Disabilities Act? Corrections officials: Well, you didn’t properly appeal the grievance rejections, so you can’t sue. Third Circuit: The suit should not have been dismissed.
- Madisonville, Tex. police pull over a car for speeding, search it, and find meth. They arrest the pregnant driver, and she loses custody of her kids until charges are dropped more than a month later. Yikes! Her ex-husband, a then-Madisonville cop, planted the drugs! He’s convicted, and she’s awarded monetary damages against him after trial. Fifth Circuit: And two of her claims against the city should not have been dismissed.
- In 2018, Rutherford County, Tenn. law enforcement undertake “Operation Candy Crush,” raiding 23 stores that sell gummies, vape juice, and other products containing cannabidiol, a derivative of marijuana. They padlock the stores, file criminal charges, prep the civil forfeiture machine, and hold a press conference about protecting the children. Yikes! Cannabidiol is legal under state and federal law. Sixth Circuit: No absolute or qualified immunity for the sheriff or prosecutors.
- Fire starts in Lawrence, Mich. home of couple who are about to divorce. The wife flees the house and hits her husband, who was on fire, with a van in the driveway. He dies. Murder? Prosecution: The wife, who was having an affair, said as much to jailhouse informants. Defense: Both of whom admitted to having mental health issues. Moreover, two of the husband’s previous houses had burned down; he started the fire. A jury convicts. Sixth Circuit: New trial. The prosecutor committed misconduct, and the wife’s lawyer was unconstitutionally deficient. Dissent: Cases like this are why Congress passed AEDPA. “All that was missing [from the evidence against the defendant] was a film of the mariticide.”
- In attempt to force residents to pay their traffic debt, Tennessee suspends driver’s licenses even if drivers are too poor to pay. Which is irrational, it is argued, imposing hardship on hundreds of thousands of people while furthering no gov’t interests. Sixth Circuit: We upheld a similar Michigan law recently and so
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