Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Miriyeva, a citizen of Azerbaijan, lawfully entered the U.S. and sought naturalization under 8 U.S.C. 1440. She enlisted in the U.S. Army through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, under which noncitizens have an expedited path to citizenship by serving honorably in the military without first having lawful permanent residence. In 2018, USCIS approved Miriyeva’s application. Before the agency scheduled Miriyeva’s oath of citizenship ceremony, the Army sent her to basic training. During training, a medical condition ended her service. The Army described Miriyeva’s separation as “uncharacterized” since her service ended while she was still at “entry-level.” After her medical discharge, Miriyeva scheduled her oath ceremony but the agency reversed its approval of her naturalization application because the military did not describe her separation as “honorable.”Miriyeva argued that the military refers to “uncharacterized” as “separated under honorable conditions,” when required to do so and that the Army’s policy of treating an uncharacterized separation as not under honorable conditions violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the Constitution’s Uniform Rule of Naturalization Clause, and the Due Process Clause. The district court dismissed Miriyeva’s declaratory judgment suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under 8 U.S.C. 1421(c), which precluded Miriyeva’s Administrative Procedure Act and constitutional claims; her Declaratory Judgment Act claim failed without a different, standalone source of jurisdiction. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. Miriyeva strayed from the statutory path for judicial review of claims intertwined with denied naturalization applications. View "Miriyeva v. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services" on Justia Law

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Bellion produces and distributes vodka that is infused with NTX, a proprietary blend that Bellion contends mitigates alcohol’s damage to a person’s DNA. Bellion filed a petition with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the agency that regulates alcoholic beverage labeling and advertising, to determine whether Bellion could lawfully make certain claims about NTX on labels and in advertisements. TTB found that the claims were scientifically unsubstantiated and misleading so that including them on vodka labels and in advertisements would violate the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, 27 U.S.C. 201, and TTB’s regulations.Bellion filed suit, alleging that TTB’s denial of the petition violated Bellion’s First Amendment rights and that the standards under which TTB rejected the proposed NTX claims are unconstitutionally vague. The district court granted TTB summary judgment. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. In making its decision, TTB did not rubber-stamp the FDA’s analysis of the scientific evidence or delegate final decision-making authority to the FDA. Bellion’s proposed claims are misleading and can be proscribed consistent with the First Amendment. Bellion received a clear response from TTB about why its proposed claims were denied. Bellion cannot bring an as-applied vagueness challenge to the regulation; its facial challenge to the regulation is without merit. View "Bellion Spirits, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Gaskins served almost eight years of a 22-year sentence on a narcotics conspiracy charge before the D.C. Circuit reversed his conviction for insufficient evidence in 2012. At his trial, Gaskins had invoked his constitutional right not to testify. After the reversal of his conviction, he sought limited discovery and a chance to testify in support of his motion for a certificate of innocence under 28 U.S.C. 2513, a prerequisite to a claim against the government for compensation for wrongful imprisonment. The district court denied the certificate of innocence without acting on Gaskins’ motion for discovery.The D.C. Circuit vacated. A failure to prove criminal culpability beyond a reasonable doubt requires acquittal but does not necessarily establish innocence. On a motion for a certificate of innocence, the burden is on the claimant to prove his innocence by a preponderance of the evidence. The district court erred by denying Gaskins’ motion for a certificate of innocence without addressing his procedural motion. The key issue bearing on whether Gaskins is entitled to the certificate concerns his state of mind--whether he agreed to work with co-conspirators with the specific intent to distribute drugs. His actions, as established by the trial evidence, do not add up to the charged offenses unless he agreed to join the conspiracy. The court declined to reassign the case. View "United States v. Gaskins" on Justia Law

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In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. In response, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 965 in May 2020, establishing a process under which House Members can cast their votes and mark their presence by proxy if they cannot personally attend proceedings due to the public-health emergency. On May 20, 2020, Speaker of the House Pelosi authorized proxy voting pursuant to the Resolution for a period of 45 days. There have since been several extensions, the most recent of which expires on August 17, 2021. House Minority Leader McCarthy, other Representatives, and several constituents challenged the constitutionality of the Resolution in a lawsuit, arguing that various constitutional provisions require Members to be physically present on the House floor in order to count towards a quorum and cast votes.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Resolution and its implementation lie within the immunity for legislative acts conferred by the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause. The Resolution establishes internal rules governing the casting of votes by Members; conduct implementing the latter resolution, including the Clerk’s counting and recording of proxy votes, is itself a legislative act, pertaining directly “to the consideration and passage or rejection of proposed legislation.” View "McCarthy v. Pelosi" on Justia Law

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In 2014, ATF agents executing a search warrant at Johnson’s home recovered explosive powder, items associated with the production of explosive devices, and boxes containing .37-millimeter ammunition shells with caps and primers on them. One shell had been assembled as an improvised explosive device (IED) using explosive powder, a fuse, and a primer. Agent Campbell looked through the boxes and disassembled and examined the IED. In 2017, while reviewing photos, Campbell noticed items that he had not examined, discovered that one of the shell casings “appeared to be loaded,” and concluded it had been converted into a second IED. The 2018 indictment charged: Unlawful Receipt or Possession of an Unregistered Firearm and Destructive Device; Unlawful Making of a Firearm; Possession of a Weapon of Mass Destruction (D.C. Code); Unlawful Receipt or Possession of an Unregistered Firearm and Destructive Device; Unlawful Making of a Firearm; Possession of a Weapon of Mass Destruction; and Conspiracy to Smuggle Goods. There was a federal possession, federal manufacture, and D.C. possession charge for each IED. The court permitted the defense to argue that the evidence had been mishandled by the government and that Campbell was not a credible witness. The D.C. Circuit remanded Johnson's convictions. The federal firearm possession convictions are “multiplicitous” of the federal firearm manufacturing convictions, in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause; the D.C. law convictions are multiplicitous of each other. The court also remanded a claim that Johnson received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel in rejecting a plea agreement. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Arrington was convicted of assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon and of unlawfully possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. The judge calculated a mandatory 210-240-month sentencing range and sentenced Arrington to 240 months. Arrington’s sentencing range involved a higher base offense level for the unlawful possession of a firearm because he “had at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence,” U.S.S.G. 2K2.1(a)(2); he also received an enhancement as “a career offender” because he had “at least two prior felony convictions of either a crime of violence,” U.S.S.G. 4B1.1. The judge applied the “residual clause” in the Guidelines' definition of "crime of violence." In 2003, Arrington was denied post-conviction relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255.The Supreme Court rendered the Guidelines advisory while Arrington’s first petition was pending. In 2015, the Court held (Johnson) that the Armed Career Criminal Act’s “residual clause” was unconstitutionally vague. In 2016, the Supreme Court held that “Johnson announced a substantive rule that has retroactive effect in cases on collateral review.” Within a year of Johnson, Arrington sought leave to file a successive section 2255 motion challenging his sentence in light of Johnson. The district court denied his motion as untimely. The D.C. Circuit reversed. The Johnson decision recognized a person’s right not to have his sentence dictated by the unconstitutionally vague language contained in a mandatory residual clause identical to that in the Guidelines. View "United States v. Arrington" on Justia Law

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In March 2020, the District of Columbia's mayor declared a public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Corrections responded by instituting policies intended to protect its employees and inmates from the coronavirus. On March 30, inmates at D.C. correctional facilities filed a class action, asserting claims under 28 U.S.C. 2241 and 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violations of the Fifth and Eighth Amendments. The district court appointed amici to investigate conditions at D.C. correctional facilities; based on their report the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order on April 19, generally requiring Corrections to address identified problems. Although COVID cases in the facilities decreased, significant problems remained. In June 2020, the district court entered a preliminary injunction, ordering the defendants to ensure inmates receive medical attention within 24 hours after reporting medical problems, to contract for COVID-19 cleaning services, ensure quarantine isolation units are nonpunitive and provide access to confidential legal calls. Corrections took steps to comply. One month later, Corrections moved to vacate the preliminary injunction due to changed circumstances. Amici reported substantial improvement but imperfect compliance with the preliminary injunction.The district court denied the motion. The D.C. Circuit dismissed an appeal. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. 3626(a)(2), the preliminary injunction has expired; the cases are now moot. View "Banks v. Booth" on Justia Law

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Judicial Watch sued the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and its chairman Adam B. Schiff, seeking disclosure of all subpoenas issued to any telecommunications provider as a part of the Committee’s 2019 Trump-Ukraine impeachment inquiry and the responses to those subpoenas.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution bars the suit, providing that “for any Speech or Debate in either House, [Senators and Representatives] shall not be questioned in any other Place.” The Committee’s issuance of subpoenas, whether as part of an oversight investigation or impeachment inquiry, was a legislative act protected by the Speech or Debate Clause. “The wisdom of congressional approach or methodology is not open to judicial veto.” “Nor is the legitimacy of a congressional inquiry to be defined by what it produces.” View "Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Schiff" on Justia Law

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Metropolitan Police officers in uniform, with body cameras, were patrolling an area known for gun- and drug-related crime. They saw three men hanging out on the sidewalk and exited their car to talk to them. One man began to walk away; Officer Goss approached him. Mabry and the third man stayed. The man who tried to leave became irate as Goss spoke with him. Officer Tariq walked over and patted the man down. Officer Volcin stayed with Mabry and the third man.Seeing the pat-down, Mabry raised his shirt and said, “I’ve got nothing,” and “you have no probable cause to search me.” Volcin asked about a satchel with a cross-body strap Mabry was carrying. The officers requested that he open the satchel. Mabry repeatedly said that he had nothing. Volcin never grabbed Mabry or the satchel, nor said that Mabry could not leave. Eventually, Mabry ran. During the ensuing chase, Mabry discarded the satchel, which Goss recovered. Mabry eventually stopped. Volcin opened the satchel and discovered a spring for a large-capacity magazine. While walking, Mabry made unsolicited statements indicating he was in possession of a firearm and drugs. Mabry had a pistol, 30 rounds of ammunition, an extended magazine, crack cocaine, and amphetamines.The D.C. Circuit reversed the denial of Mabry's motion to suppress. Mabry was “seized” for Fourth Amendment purposes. The circumstances show the officers’ conduct constituted a show of authority to which Mabry submitted. View "United States v. Mabry" on Justia Law

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Long is serving a 29-year sentence at a federal medical penitentiary for violent racketeering offenses committed over the course of three decades. A double amputee, he suffers from other disabling medical conditions. As the COVID-19 pandemic raged through the federal prison system, Long sought compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A), arguing that his distinct medical susceptibility to COVID-19 and the failure of prison officials to curb the disease’s rapid spread constituted “extraordinary and compelling” reasons for release. The district court denied his motion, believing itself bound by a policy statement issued by the Sentencing Commission that bars courts from releasing any incarcerated defendant unless the court first finds that he “is not a danger to the safety of any other person or to the community,” U.S.S.G. 1B1.13(2).The D.C. Circuit vacated, joining seven other circuits in holding that this policy statement is not applicable to compassionate release motions filed by defendants. The policy statement applies only to motions for compassionate release filed by the Bureau of Prisons. Because it is not clear what the district court might have done had it considered the correct factors, its reliance on an incorrect Guidelines policy establishes an effect on Long’s substantial rights. View "United States v. Long" on Justia Law