A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions

Please enjoy the latest edition of Short Circuit, a weekly feature from the Institute for Justice.

Civil forfeiture, dear friends, is an affliction that plagues honest people in all jurisdictions across the nation. But Indiana may be the rottenest, thanks to a unique feature of state law that allows counties to deputize private-sector lawyers to act as prosecutors—and pocket a cut of whatever they forfeit. Nearly half of Indiana’s 92 counties have such for-profit lawyers. Go to Bloomberg LawRead more about the IJ’s challenge to the law in a class action.

  • One man, who is a felon and cannot have a firearm, takes aim at himself. Haverhill, Mass. Police obtain a warrant for his search and to find weapons. But, wait! But wait! Suspend the evidence First Circuit: Nope. While the warrant could have been referring to the second floor, it didn’t necessarily “an exemplar for grammatical accuracy.” The officers could have believed they were authorized to search the third floor.
  • Pennsylvania law requires petition circulators to gather signatures in order to put candidates on the election ballot to be Pennsylvania residents and members of the same political party. Two petition circulators who are not from Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit claiming violations of the First Amendment. District court. The law as it applies to you is invalid, but only for 2020. Third Circuit: We can expand that to the both of you for future elections … but nobody else!
  • Coast Guard officer is taken into custody on gun and drug charges. A deeper investigation revealed that the Coast Guard lieutenant was a white supremacist. He had written a manifesto, in which he described his dream of “a way of killing almost every person on Earth.” Also, his browser history reveals an obsession for the mass killings manifestos and precision long-distance shots, as well as the location of federal officials. Fourth Circuit: There is more evidence than necessary to prove that his illegal weapons were purchased with the intention of supporting terrorism. This warrants a sentence enhancement.
  • This Fourth Circuit case examines the possibility that a criminal defendant who has entered a conditional plea of guilty may challenge the denial by the district judge to a suppression motion. He can overrule a dissent. The most significant lesson is the fact that Richmond police said “Yo!” when they approached the defendant. Allow me to talk with you quickly,” the defendant replied “Nah” while walking. This is correct.
  • Ten years ago West Virginia property rights owners sued a pipeline company for trespass. A jury decided in their favor seven years ago. The Fourth Circuit has affirmed their right to this. . . Remand for them to show evidence of damages.
  • South Carolina’s “fetal Heartbeat” law was passed in 2021. It effectively prohibits abortions following the sixth week. Abortion providers sue. District court: According to Supreme Court precedent, the law is invalid. The government: This law is clearly unconstitutional. However, the providers did not have standing. Fourth Circuit. The Supreme Court ruled abortion providers had standing. There’s also lots of information about seperability there. Bon appétit!)
  • Allegation: Texas prison officials inflicted a more severe disciplinary sentence upon a prisoner who had previously lodged a grievance against one member of the disciplinary panel. District court. Officials move for summary judgment. Fifth Circuit (2016): Reversed. District court: Again granted the motion of officials for summary judgement. Fifth Circuit (2022),: Partly reversed District court must take into account All Based on the arguments of the prisoner, he could be eligible for punitive damages.
  • A former Chief Magistrate Judge of Detroit warned other state-court judges about their violations of state and federal laws. Later, the ACLU considered filing a suit. ACLU brings suit against the judge and he is dismissed. First Amendment retaliation? Sixth Circuit: Nope. The speech she gave was in her official capacity.
  • The Sixth Circuit reminds Saginaw County (and 26 other Michigan County) that sovereign immunity can only be granted to sovereigns. The class action alleging the county’s habit of foreclosing upon homes worth $50k, in response to a $3k tax bill that was late, is not going away.
  • This is a Chicago Police Officer guessing the address of a suspect felon in possession (using an informant’s imprecise data), getting a search warrant for wrong address, ending up searching correct address and causing the target to spend 4 months in prison. However, the warrant was to search elsewhere so the evidence was eventually suppressed. Seventh Circuit – There is evidence you should have done more, officer. Some claims related to this will go to trial.
  • Chicago officers mistakenly identify the address of suspected drug dealer. They obtain a warrant to search the wrong address and destroy any footage. Seventh Circuit: Officers, there is no evidence that you committed any wrongdoing. This case is not being tried.
  • It’s what do you call when you get advice on your diet? Annoying? Intrusive? You call it “professional conduct for dieticians” if you are this Eleventh Circuit panel. It is not protected by the First Amendment. This is an IJ matter.

You’re probably aware that IJ does not like barriers to work. However, even the states consider many of those barriers to be nonsense. For our latest report, Are There Too Many LicensesIJ has collected almost 500 studies from government about proposed licenses. These are known as sunrise reviews. Surprise: Most of the proposals were backed in large part by people who are interested in protecting competition. Surprise perhaps? The overwhelming majority of government reviewers saw this through and said, “no thanks” for licensing. What is the lesson? Legislators everywhere need to approach licensing with healthy suspicion, regardless of sunrise reviews. The report is available for curious readers here. Our sunrise archive contains information for curious readers about over 200 occupations.