Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

In his provocative Opinion piece Our Fill-in-the-Blank Constitution in the April 13 New York Times, Geoffrey Stone examines this question and more. He emphasizes that contitutional law is not a mechanical exercise in just applying the law, a fact that needs always to be considered in the selection and evaluation of judges and justices.. Here are two excerpts from the article:

“AS the Senate awaits the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice, a frank discussion is needed on the proper role of judges in our constitutional system. For 30 years, conservative commentators have persuaded the public that conservative judges apply the law, whereas liberal judges make up the law….”

“So, how should judges interpret the Constitution? To answer that question, we need to consider why we give courts the power of judicial review – the power to hold laws unconstitutional – in the first place. Although the framers thought democracy to be the best system of government, they recognized that it was imperfect. One flaw that troubled them was the risk that prejudice or intolerance on the part of the majority might threaten the liberties of a minority. As James Madison observed, ( ) in a democratic society “the real power lies in the majority of the community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended … from acts in which the government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents.” It was therefore essential, Madison concluded, for judges, whose life tenure insulates them from the demands of the majority, to serve as the guardians of our liberties and as “an impenetrable bulwark” ( ) against every encroachment upon our most cherished freedoms.”

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April 5 – April 9, 2010:.

U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, April 01, 2010 Chamberlin v. Town of Stoughton, No. 08-1289 In plaintiff-officers’ 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit against a town, its officials and police chiefs involving various workplace discrimination and harassment claims, district court’s grant of a directed verdict in favor of one of the two police chiefs is affirmed as any error in granting the directed verdict was harmless because of the rejection of plaintiffs’ claims against the other police chief by a different jury in a second trial.

U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, April 09, 2010 Educational Media Co. v. Swecker, No. 08-1798 In an action brought by college newspapers alleging that two of Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s regulations restricting alcohol advertisements violate their First Amendment rights, summary judgment declaring both provisions facially unconstitutional and permanently enjoining their enforcement is reversed and remanded where, on its face, the Board’s ban on alcoholic advertisements in college student publications passes muster under Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Serv. Comm’n of New York, 447 U.S. 557 (1980). .

U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, April 07, 2010 Jennings v. Owens, No. 09-50047 In an action claiming that officials from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice committed procedural due process violations after the Board of Pardons and Paroles imposed sex offender special conditions on plaintiff’s parole, summary judgment for plaintiff is reversed where, because plaintiff was indeed a sex offender, he failed to show that he had a liberty interest that was infringed when the parole board imposed sex offender special conditions on his parole.
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February 23, 2010
In a 5 – 1 decision the New York Court of Appeals found that the legislature and the executive branches had undermined the independence of the judicial branch by tying judges pay raises to unrelated legislation, including bills to raise legislators own salaries, thereby violating the separation of powers doctrine. The last pay raise for New York judges was in 1998.

In his dissent Judge Robert S. Smith stated that while he shares his colleagues’ dismay at the Legislature’s behavior in dealing with, or rather failing to deal with, judges’ salaries, he “cannot agree that any of its actions or inactions are unconstitutional….”

The current Chier Judge of the Court of Appeals, Jonathan Lippman, recused himself from the deliberations because he was a plaintiff in one of the cases the ruling addresses.

Public Statement of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, delivered on February 23, 2010 at 1:PM.

Here are excerpts from the beginning and end of the decision:


“The constitutional arguments raised in these judicial compensation appeals are premised upon, among other things, alleged violations of the New York State Constitution’s Compensation Clause and the Separation of Powers Doctrine. Because the Separation of Powers doctrine is aimed at preventing one branch of government from dominating or interfering with the functioning of another co-equal branch, we conclude that the independence of the judiciary is improperly jeopardized by the current judicial pay crisis and this constitutes a violation of the Separation of Powers Doctrine.”

Conclusion It is unfortunate that this Court has been called upon to adjudicate constitutional issues relative to an underlying matter upon which all have agreed; namely, that the Judiciary is entitled to a compensation adjustment. By ensuring that any judicial salary increases will be premised on their merits, this holding aims to strike the appropriate balance between preserving the independence of the Judiciary and avoiding encroachment on the budget-making authority of the Legislature. Therefore, judicial compensation, when addressed by the Legislature in present and future budget deliberations cannot depend on unrelated policy initiatives or legislative compensation adjustments. Of course, whether judicial compensation should be adjusted, and by how much, is within the province of the Legislature. It should keep in mind, however, that whether the Legislature has met its constitutional obligations in that regard is within the province of this Court (see Marbury v Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 [1803]). We therefore expect appropriate and expeditious legislative consideration.

Accordingly, In Maron, the order of the Appellate Division should be modified, without costs, by remitting to Supreme Court for – 35 – No. 016; 017; 018 – 35 – further proceedings in accordance with this opinion, and as so modified, affirmed.

In Larabee, the order of Appellate Division should be modified, and in Chief Judge, the judgment of Supreme Court and the order of the Appellate Division should be modified, without costs, by granting judgment declaring that under the circumstances of these cases, as a matter of law, the State defendants’ failure to consider judicial compensation on the merits violates the Separation of Powers Doctrine, and by allowing for the remedy discussed in this opinion, and, asmodified, affirmed.


New York Court of Appeals Judicial Compensation Decision February 23, 2010
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To view the full-text of cases you must sign in to All summaries arU.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, February 03, 2010 Janosky v. St. Amand, No. 09-1012 District court’s denial of defendant’s petition for habeas relief in a case arising out of an armed robbery gone awry is affirmed where: 1) defendant is barred from litigating his procedurally defaulted jury instruction claim; 2) defendant’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is rejected; and 3) defendant did not present his Sixth Amendment claim regarding a scrap of paper seized from a vehicle fairly and recognizably to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. .

U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, February 03, 2010 Abrante v. St. Amand, No. 09-1020 Denial of defendant’s petition for habeas relief following conviction of armed robbery and related crimes is affirmed where: 1) defendant has not offered clear and convincing evidence that the state established agency relationships with inmate informants who then elicited admissions from him without the presence of counsel in violation of his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights; 2) defendant’s due process claim fails; 3) defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim is rejected; and 4) the issues defendant raises do not present the court with opportunity to consider his constitutional challenge to the AEDPA. .

U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, February 04, 2010 Estrada v. State of Rhode Island, No. 09-1149 In plaintiffs’ action challenging the constitutionality of the actions of a police officer during a traffic stop, summary judgment in favor of defendant is affirmed where: 1) the officer is entitled to federal and state qualified immunity for any possible constitutional violations that he may have committed in asking the van’s passengers questions about their immigration status and in contacting ICE; 2) the officer is entitled to qualified immunity for alleged violations of state or federal laws surrounding the seizure of plaintiffs and their subsequent escort to ICE office; 3) officer is entitled to qualified immunity for both pat down searches under federal and state law; and 4) the officer is entitled to qualified immunity for all of the challenged actions with respect to the Rhode Island Racial Profiling Prevention Act e produced by Findlaw Continue reading

January 18, 2010 – January 1, 2010

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U.S. Supreme Court, January 21, 2010 Citizens United v. FEC, No. 08–205 The Court rules that the government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether. Specifically, in an action brought by a nonprofit corporation, the makers of a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy, challenging the constitutionality of a federal law prohibiting corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech that was an “electioneering communication” or for speech that expressly advocated the election or defeat of a candidate, a denial of a preliminary injunction for plaintiff is reversed in part where Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990), is overruled, and thus provides no basis for allowing the government to limit corporate independent expenditures. Hence, the part of McConnell v. Federal Election Comm’n, 540 U.S. 93 (2007), that upheld the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act sect! ion 203’s extension of section 441b’s restrictions on independent corporate expenditures is also overruled. However, the order is affirmed in part where BCRA sections 201 and 311 were valid as applied to the ads for the documentary and to the movie itself because disclaimer and disclosure requirements may burden the ability to speak, but they imposed no ceiling on campaign-related activities, or prevented anyone from speaking. .

December-28, 2009 – January 1, 2010
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U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, December 30, 2009 Wilner v. Nat’l. Sec. Agency, No. 08-4726 In a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) action filed by attorneys for Guantanamo Bay detainees seeking information regarding whether the government intercepted plaintiffs’ communications relating to the representation of their detainee clients, an order upholding the National Security Agency’s (NSA) and Department of Justice’s responses neither confirming nor denying the existence of such records is affirmed where: 1) a Glomar response was available to agencies as a valid response to FOIA requests; 2) an agency may issue a Glomar response to FOIA requests seeking information obtained pursuant to a publicly acknowledged intelligence program, at least when the existence of such information has not already been publicly disclosed; 3) the NSA properly invoked the Glomar doctrine in response to plaintiffs’ request for information pursuant to FOIA Exemption 3; 4) the government’s affidavits sufficiently alleged the necessity of a Glomar response in this case, making it unnecessary ! for the court to review or to require the district court to review ex parte and in camera any classified affidavits that the NSA might proffer in support of its Glomar response; and 5) there was no evidence in the record that the NSA invoked Glomar for the purpose of concealing activities that violated the Constitution or were otherwise illegal.

U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, December 28, 2009 Smith v. Smith, No. 08-7139 In an inmate’s 42 U.S.C. section 1983 suit against a prison nurse claiming deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, district court’s judgment in favor of the defendant is reversed and remanded where: 1) the inmate made out a claim for a deliberate indifference and the district court erred in finding that he failed to state a claim under the Eighth Amendment; and 2) because the district court premised both the grant of the motion to dismiss and qualified immunity on its finding that plaintiff failed to allege deliberate indifference in his complaint, the immunity analysis was prematurely concluded on the erroneous basis that plaintiff did not plead facts sufficient to indicate defendant had deliberate indifference to his medical need.

U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, December 30, 2009 Hamblen v. US, No. 09-5025 District court’s denial of a 28 U.S.C. section 2255 motion to vacate a sentence for possession of machine guns and unregistered firearms by defendant, a volunteer with the Tennessee State Guard who had built nine machine guns in response to the events of September 11, is affirmed as the Second Amendment does not confer an unrestricted individual right to keep and bear machine guns.
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December-14-18, 2009.

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U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, December 17, 2009 Mosher v. Nelson, No. 09-1636 In plaintiffs’ civil rights action brought following the death of their son against a facility operated by the Massachusetts Department of Corrections that serves as both a prison and a mental hospital, its superintendent, and others, summary judgment for defendants is affirmed where: 1) defendant-superintendent is entitled to qualified immunity as a reasonable official in defendant’s place, given the circumstances and the legal standard, could have believed that allowing a certain practice to continue would not lead to events that would violate a patient’s rights; 2) commissioner is also entitled to qualified immunity as a reasonable official in his position could have reasonably believed that staffing that met the hospital’s recommendations was sufficient to avoid constitutional violations; and 3) the district court properly dismissed the plaintiffs’ state law claims as barred by the Eleventh Amendment. .

U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, December 16, 2009 US v. Hester, No. 08-4665 Defendant’s conviction for traveling in interstate commerce and failing to register or update his sex offender registration in violation of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) is affirmed where the fact that defendant had no actual notice of SORNA was not sufficient to render his prosecution pursuant to that statute a violation of his due process rights.

U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, December 18, 2009 Turkmen v. Ashcroft, No. 06-3745 In an action claiming abuse, mistreatment, and detention of Arab and Muslim aliens who were held on immigration violations in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an order partially dismissing the complaint is affirmed in part where there was no clearly established equal protection right to be free of selective enforcement of immigration laws based on national origin, race, or religion at the time of plaintiffs’ detentions. However, the order is vacated in part where defendant-officials were entitled to qualified immunity because a law enforcement official’s actual motivation for the Fourth Amendment seizure of a person was constitutionally irrelevant if the seizure was supported by probable cause.
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December-7-11, 2009.

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U.S. Supreme Court, December 08, 2009 Alvarez v. Smith, No. 08–351 In a 42 U.S.C. section 1983 case involving whether Illinois law provides a sufficiently speedy opportunity for an individual, whose car or cash police have seized without a warrant, to contest the lawfulness of the seizure, a circuit court’s ruling reversing dismissal of the action is vacated and the case is remanded where the action was moot because all of the actual property disputes between the parties had been resolved.

U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, December 08, 2009 Cooey v. Strickland, No. 09-4474 District court’s denial of defendant’s request for a stay of execution by lethal injection under Ohio’s new protocol where the state eliminated the use of a three-drug protocol and implemented a one-drug protocol is affirmed as the defendant is unable to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits on his Eighth Amendment claim by demonstrating that, facially or as applied to him, Ohio’s new protocol demonstrates risk of severe pain that is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.

U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, December 09, 2009 Holder v. Palmer, No. 07-1440 District court’s denial of defendant’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus following his conviction for sexual penetration with an uninformed partner by a person infected with AIDS is affirmed as defendant failed to demonstrate either that his trial counsel’s failure to challenge five jurors permeated the entire trial with obvious unfairness, or that the trial court committed plain error by allowing the five jurors to serve on the jury.

U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, December 10, 2009 Spears v. Ruth, No. 09-5408 In a suit brought by the family of an individual who died eleven months after being in police custody for public intoxication, denial of a summary judgment motion by an officer and the City of Cleveland is reversed and remanded where: 1) plaintiffs have not established the obvious existence of a sufficiently serious medical need; 2) there is no evidence that the officer was aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm existed, and that he drew that inference and chose to disregard the risk; 3) as such, because no constitutional violation occurred, the officer is entitled to qualified immunity; and 4) the city is entitled to summary judgment because the record as a whole does not support an inference that a reasonable trier of fact could find a causal connection between either officer’s actions or the police chief’s no-transport policy and the decedent’s injuries.
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November 30-December-4, 2009.

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U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, December 03, 2009 US v. Hersom, No. 07-2401 Defendant’s conviction for maliciously destroying by fire a building owned by an institution receiving Federal financial assistance in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 844(f) is affirmed where: 1) in general, the statute should be limited to arson of property acquired, renovated, or leased using federal financial assistance; 2) section 844(f) is constitutional and it applies to defendant’s conduct in this case; but 3) defendant’s sentence is vacated and remanded in light of US v. Giggey to determine whether defendant’s second career offender predicate is a crime of violence. ..

U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, December 03, 2009 Lopez v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, No. 09-1664 In minority police officers’ disparate impact race claim under Title VII against a state agency that prepares and administers promotional examinations for local police officers under the state civil service system, their employers, various cities, and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), district court’s denial of Eleventh Amendment immunity for the state defendants, the state of Massachusetts and a chief human resources officers of the Human Resources Division (HRD) in his official capacity, is reversed where: 1) the state defendants do not qualify as employers as that term is used in Title VII; 2) HRD cannot be deemed plaintiffs’ de facto employer as it exercised no control, direct or indirect, over the factors relevant to the common law agency test; and 3) plaintiffs’ alternate theories why HRD should be considered their employer under Title VII are rejected.

U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, December 02, 2009 Francis v. Giacomelli, No. 08-1908 In a case brought by a police commissioner and his deputies following a highly public dispute with the mayor of Baltimore resulting in the termination of their employment, dismissal of the action is affirmed as, based on the facts alleged in the complaint, the complaint fails to articulate any claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Furthermore, the mayor, against whom the allegations of due process violations were directed, is entitled to qualified immunity.
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