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.
New on the Short Circuit podcast: IJ attorneys Kirby West and Jeff Redfern consider the pressing issues of the day, such as how many Ninth Circuit judges does it take to change an en banc denial and can butterflies flutter over The Wall?
- Almost forty years ago, a defendant was convicted of killing a man on Christmas eve on the streets of Philadelphia. Twenty years ago, somebody else confessed to the murder. Ten years ago, a key witness for the prosecution recanted her testimony. Six years ago, two more witnesses recanted. Third Circuit: We view recantations with suspicion, but the number of recantations here warrants an evidentiary hearing.
- Last month, North Carolina elections officials, apparently wary of the Post Office’s ability to deliver absentee ballots in time, extended the deadline for receipt from three to nine days after election day (ballots still must be mailed by election day). Much litigation ensues. The Fourth Circuit takes the unusual step of taking the case en banc after the panel had voted but before the panel opinion had been drafted. And the en banc court will not put a stop to the ballot-receipt extension, over some dissenters who are displeased both with the substance of the decision and the process it took to get there.
- Former co-owner of Dinero Express is convicted of money laundering: running it through washing machines, when it arrives smelling like mischief, but also running it through a series of money transfers. Fifth Circuit: While petitioner was a success at money laundering—both literal and figurative—his habeas petition raises issues that could have been raised in an earlier petition and is an abuse of the writ. Concurrence: I agree, but I also think we should reconsider our habeas case law to further restrict the writ.
- Texas’s absentee-ballot system involves a “Signature Verification Committee”—a “politically diverse” group that is tasked with approving or rejecting signatures on mail-in ballots. The committee verifies signatures on the ballot application and the absentee ballot envelope, and it may also look to signatures from that voter within the last six years that are on file with the county clerk or voter registrar. If a majority of the committee votes to reject a signature, the voter must be notified but has no opportunity to challenge the rejection. Considering that absentee ballots are “the largest source of potential voter fraud” and voting by mail is a privilege rather than a constitutional right, says the Fifth Circuit, this system is fine, at least fine enough to apply to this election.
- For their entire lives, two teenage brothers in Mathis, Tex., have each kept a lock of their hair uncut as a promesa (a practice among American Catholics of Hispanic descent, which involves petitioning God with a request and vowing to fulfill a promise in return). In 2017, their public school informs them that they cannot participate in extracurricular activities unless their adhere to the school’s grooming stan
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