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Ventura County CourthouseCourthouse News Service won a ruling in the Ninth Circuit recently for access to court filings. CNS went to federal court last year to challenge the Ventura County Superior Court policy of delaying the release of court opinions.  A U.S. district court judge dismissed the case, finding that it was not a First Amendment issue, but a claim that involved sensitive state information, and that the federal court should abstain. The Ninth Circuit overturned that ruling and remanded the case to the federal district court for a decision on the merits.

Courthouse News Service is a periodical that covers courthouses all over the United States. They send reporters into courts every day to review the filings and write about the newsworthy cases. Most courts in California allow reporters daily access to the filings, but Ventura County has a policy that delays reporter access until “official processing” is completed, at which point the cases are no longer breaking news.

The Ninth Circuit found a clear First Amendment interest in immediate reporter access to the opinions. In the opinion, Judge Wardlaw wrote, “CNS’s First Amendment right of access claim falls within the general rule against abstaining under Pullman in First Amendment cases. CNS’s right of access claim implicates the same fundamental First Amendment interests as a free expression claim, and it equally commands the respect and attention of the federal courts.” We have the featured the trial and appellate court filings on Justia Dockets. You can read the full opinion and summary on Justia, as well. Continue reading →

1.23.12_Supreme_Court_Warrantless_GPS_TrackingLegal news coverage was dominated this week by the Supreme Court Shuette decision, which upheld Michigan’s affirmative action ban for college admissions. Read a summary below of the Court’s decision along with a few other interesting opinions picked out by our writers this week.

Schuette v. Coal. Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigration Rights, Unites States Supreme Court (4/22/14)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Education Law

After the Supreme Court decided that the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions plan’s use of race-based preferences violated the Equal Protection Clause, but that its law school admission plan’s limited use did not, Michigan voters adopted a new section of the state constitution (Proposal 2), prohibiting use of race-based preferences in the admissions process for state universities. The district court upheld Proposal 2, but the Sixth Circuit reversed, concluding that it violated Supreme Court precedent. The Supreme Court reversed. Justice Kennedy, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, reasoned that the principle that consideration of race in admissions is permissible when certain conditions are met was not challenged; the issue was whether, and how, state voters may choose to prohibit consideration of such racial preferences. The decision by Michigan voters reflects an ongoing national dialogue; there was no infliction of a specific injury of the type at issue in cases cited by the Sixth Circuit. Individual liberty has constitutional protection, but the Constitution also embraces the right of citizens to act through a lawful electoral process, as Michigan voters did. Justices Scalia and Thomas stated that the question here, as in every case in which neutral state action is said to deny equal protection on account of race, is whether the challenged action reflects a racially discriminatory purpose. Stating that it did not, the Justices stated that the proposition that a facially neutral law may deny equal protection solely because it has a disparate racial impact “has been squarely and soundly rejected.” Justice Breyer agreed that the amendment is consistent with the Equal Protection Clause, but reasoned that the amendment only applies to, and forbids, race-conscious admissions programs that consider race solely in order to obtain the educational benefits of a diverse student body; the Constitution permits, but does not require, the use of that kind of race-conscious program. The ballot box, not the courts, is the instrument for resolving debates about such programs. This case does not involve a diminution of the minority’s ability to participate in the political process.

Read More: The Supreme Court Again Fractures Over Race Continue reading →

State v. DeMarco, Connecticut Supreme Court (4/22/14)

Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

Upon following up on complaints from Defendant’s neighbor relating to Defendant’s keeping of animals in his residence, a police officer concluded that a “welfare check” was necessary and made a warrantless entry into Defendant’s home. Defendant subsequently entered a plea of nolo contendere to two counts of cruelty to animals. Defendant appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress on the ground that the warrantless entry was justified under the emergency exception to the warrant requirement. The appellate court reversed, concluding that the evidence did not permit a finding that the police reasonably believed that a warrantless entry was necessary to help a person inside the dwelling who was in immediate need of assistance. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court properly concluded that, under the totality of the circumstances present in this case, a police officer reasonably would have believed that an emergency existed inside Defendant’s home.

McCutcheon v. Fed. Election Comm’n, United States Supreme Court (4/2/14) Civil Rights, Communications Law, Constitutional Law, Election Law

JackpotThe Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, impose base limits, restricting how much money a donor may contribute to a particular candidate or committee, and aggregate limits, restricting how much money a donor may contribute in total to all candidates or committees, 2 U.S.C. 441a. In the 2011–2012 election cycle, McCutcheon contributed to 16 federal candidates, complying with all base limits. He alleges that the aggregate limits prevented him from contributing to additional candidates and political committees and that he wishes to make similar contributions in the future. McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee challenged the aggregate limits under the First Amendment. The district court dismissed. The Supreme Court reversed, with five justices concluding that those limits are invalid. Regardless whether strict scrutiny or the “closely drawn” test applies, the analysis depends on the fit between stated governmental objectives and the means selected to achieve the objectives. The aggregate limits fail even under the “closely drawn” test. Contributing to a candidate is an exercise of the right to participate in the electoral process through political expression and political association. A restriction on how many candidates and committees an individual may support is not a “modest restraint.” To require a person to contribute at lower levels because he wants to support more candidates or causes penalizes that individual for “robustly exercis[ing]” his First Amendment rights. The proper focus is on an individual’s right to engage in political speech, not a collective conception of the public good. The aggregate limits do not further the permissible governmental interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. The justices noted the line between quid pro quo corruption and general influence and that the Court must “err on the side of protecting political speech.” Given regulations already in effect, fear that an individual might make massive unearmarked contributions to entities likely to support particular candidate is speculative. Experience suggests that most contributions are retained and spent by their recipients; the government provided no reason to believe that candidates or committees would dramatically shift their priorities if aggregate limits were lifted. Multiple alternatives could serve the interest in preventing circumvention without “unnecessary abridgment” of First Amendment rights, such as targeted restrictions on transfers among candidates and committees, tighter earmarking rules, and disclosure.

Read More: Supreme Court Strikes Down Limits on Campaign Contributions

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