Findlaw Case Summaries: Constitutional Law October 27-31, 2008

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U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, October 29, 2008 Nader v. Blackwell, No. 07-4350 In a 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit brought by Ralph Nader against Ohio’s former Secretary of State for violating his First Amendment rights in applying a state law, which required that petition circulators reside and be registered to vote in Ohio, to Nader’s nominating petitions, dismissal of the suit is affirmed where: 1) contrary to the ruling below, Nader had standing to bring the suit; 2) the voter-registration restriction and the residency restriction contained in Ohio Rev. Code section 3505.06 are both unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment; but 3) because the violations were not clearly established in 2004, the Secretary was entitled to qualified immunity. Petition circulation activity constitutes core political speech, and any regulation of that speech is subject to exacting scrutiny.

U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, October 31, 2008 Phelps-Roper v. Nixon, No. 07-1295 In an action challenging a Missouri statute which criminalizes picketing in front of a funeral location or procession, denial of a preliminary injunction while the statute’s constitutionality is reviewed is reversed where, incorporating the modified standard articulated in Planned Parenthood Minn., N.D., S.D. v. Rounds, 530 F.3d 724, 732 (8th Cir. 2008): 1) plaintiff was likely to prove any interest the state has in protecting funeral mourners from unwanted speech was outweighed by the First Amendment right to free speech; 2) there was enough likelihood plaintiff will be able to prove the statute is not narrowly tailored or is facially overbroad; and 3) she was likely to prevail in proving the statute fails to afford open, ample and adequate alternative channels for the dissemination of her particular message that God is punishing America for the sin of homosexuality by killing Americans, including soldiers. (Opinion on rehearing)

U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, October 27, 2008 Ford v. Hall, No. 0713675 Denial of habeas relief to death row inmate is affirmed over claims that: 1) the district court erred in finding the State did not violate criminal-petitioner’s constitutional rights by its failure to disclose an alleged deal with the State’s key witness; 2) the district court erred in determining that the state court’s resolution of criminal-petitioner’s claim of ineffective assistance was reasonable; and 3) the district court erred in determining that the state court’s resolution of criminal-petitioner’s Fifth Amendment claim was reasonable

U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, October 28, 2008 Pelphrey v. Cobb County, No. 0713611 In a case brought by seven county taxpayers to enjoin county commissions from opening their meetings with a prayer offered by volunteer clergy or other members of the community representing different faiths, decision that the prayers do not violate the Establishment Clause is affirmed where: 1) there was no clear error in the district court’s decisions that applying the Marsh v. Chambers standard, the practice of the county commission had not been exploitive and the practice of one of the commissions had been exploitive during 2003 and 2004; and 2) the court refused “to embark on a sensitive evaluation or to parse the content of a particular prayer”.

U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, October 31, 2008 In Re Cheney, No. 08-5412 In a suit seeking declaratory relief requiring the office of Vice President Richard Cheney (OVP) to preserve certain records under the Presidential Records Act, defendant’s petition for mandamus relief from a district court order allowing the depositions of two OVP employees is denied where: 1) the district court was not required to consider threshold grounds for dismissal before considering plaintiffs’ discovery request; and 2) the relief sought was appropriately limited to following up on facts defendant had itself put into evidence; but 3) the deposition of Cheney’s chief of staff would constitute an unwarranted impairment of the functioning of OVP, and substitution of a different OVP employee was warranted.

New York Court of Appeals, October 28, 2008 Boudreaux v. State of Louisiana Dep’t of Transp., No. 182 In a suit to satisfy a money judgment in a negligence case by reaching New York assets owned by the State of Louisiana, denial of plaintiffs’ request to amend filing of the Louisiana judgment is affirmed where neither the Full Faith and Credit clause nor the doctrine of comity required New York courts to enforce a money judgment against Louisiana when such judgment was unenforceable in Louisiana due to constitutional and statutory limitations.

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