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

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Appellate was sentenced to life in prison in 1979 when he escaped prison and killed a federal officer. After serving more than 40 years of his sentence, he sought parole relief but was denied by the U.S. Parole Commission ("the Commission"). The Commission reasoned that Appellant was a high risk.Appellant sued the Commission, claiming that the Commission violated his due process rights and exceeded its statutory discretion when it denied him parole in 2016. Reaching the merits of Appellant's petition, the district court denied relief. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the denial of Appellant's petition, finding that the district court's jurisdictional analysis was proper and that the Commission did not violate Appellant's rights. View "Artie Dufur v. USPC" on Justia Law

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The LA Times appeals the district court's denial of its motions to unseal court records relating to a search warrant allegedly executed on Senator Richard Burr in connection with an insider-trading investigation and the government's memorandum opposing its motion to unseal.The DC Circuit remanded the case to the district court to reconsider its common law analysis in light of new disclosures from a related investigation by the SEC and Senator Burr's public acknowledgment of the Justice Department's investigation, as well as precedent governing how the common law right should be balanced against competing interests. The district court shall reconsider the L.A. Times' challenge that it was fundamentally disadvantaged by the district court's decision to seal the government's opposition memorandum and attached exhibits. View "Los Angeles Times Communications LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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In a public-health emergency, 42 U.S.C. 265 authorizes the Executive Branch to "prohibit, in whole or in part, the introduction of persons and property from such countries or places as he shall designate." The Executive exercised that power during the COVID-19 pandemic, issuing a series of orders prohibiting "covered aliens" from entering the United States by land from Mexico or Canada.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's preliminary injunction in part, finding that it is likely that aliens covered by a valid section 265 order have no right to be in the United States and concluding that the Executive may expel plaintiffs under section 265, but only to places where they will not be persecuted or tortured. The court addressed plaintiffs' likelihood of success on the merits and rejected their arguments that section 265 covers only transportation providers such as common carriers; that the Executive has no power to expel aliens for violating a valid section 265 order; and that they are entitled to apply for asylum. However, the court concluded that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their narrow argument that under section 1231 the Executive cannot expel them to places where they face persecution or torture. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the equities require a preliminary injunction to stop the Executive from expelling plaintiffs to places where they will be persecuted or tortured. The court remanded for further proceedings and ultimate resolution of the merits, including plaintiffs' claim that the section 265 order is arbitrary and capricious. View "Huisha-Huisha v. Mayorkas" on Justia Law

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The FCC promulgated a regulation which originally authorized the installation on private property, with the owner's consent, of "over-the-air reception devices," regardless of State and local restrictions, "including zoning, land-use, or building regulation[s], or any private covenant, homeowners' association rule or similar restriction on property." The FCC later expanded coverage to include antennas that act as "hub sites" or relay service to other locations. Petitioners, expressing concern about possible health effects from increased radiofrequency exposure, argued that the proliferation of commercial-grade antennas would increase the suffering of those with radiofrequency sensitivity—violating their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the U.S. Constitution's protections of private property and personal autonomy. Petitioners also contend that the amendments would deny affected individuals fair notice and an opportunity to be heard.The DC Circuit first concluded that two of the petitioners' interests are impacted directly by the FCC's order and that CHD has associational standing. The court also concluded that the Commission's citation of and reliance on the Commission's Continental Airlines decision provided sufficient explanation for its authority to expand the regulation to hub-and-relay antennas carrying broadband Internet. The court rejected petitioners' contentions to the contrary that the order is unsupported by Section 303 of the Communications Act. Finally, the court rejected petitioners' contention that the order lacks a reasoned foundation because the Commission disregarded the human health consequences of its action. Rather, the court concluded that the Commission sufficiently explained that its order does not change the applicability of the Commission's radio frequency exposure requirements and that such concerns were more appropriately directed at its radiofrequency rulemaking. Furthermore, the Commission may also preempt restrictions on the placement of the new category of antennas now included in the regulation. Therefore, the court denied the petition challenging the FCC's order. View "Children's Health Defense v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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Appellants, two individuals who have traveled on Amtrak in connection with their work and expect to continue doing so, sought declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent Amtrak from imposing an arbitration requirement on rail passengers and purchasers of rail tickets.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint because appellants have not plausibly alleged an actual injury-in-fact and therefore lack Article III standing. In this case, appellants have alleged neither ongoing nor imminent future injury. Rather, appellants assert only one cognizable interest, the interest in purchasing tickets to travel by rail, but Amtrak's new term of service has not meaningfully abridged that interest. View "Weissman v. National Railroad Passenger Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the Government, alleging violations of their Fourth and Fifth Amendments and the Administrative Procedure Act, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Plaintiffs' action stemmed from extensive and intrusive security screenings at domestic and international airports, and their belief that they were on a terrorist watchlist maintained by the U.S. Government. The district court granted the Government's motion to dismiss with prejudice on the ground that plaintiffs lacked Article III standing.The DC Circuit concluded that because plaintiffs plausibly allege that they will travel again soon and that they will again endure the alleged illegalities, they have established an imminent threat of future injury and have standing to pursue most of their claims for prospective relief. The court could easily infer from the family's travel history that they will soon fly again, particularly if they secure the relief they now seek. Furthermore, plaintiffs' uncontested factual allegations, combined with the reasonable inferences the court drew from them, plausibly indicate that the family likely appeared on a terrorist watchlist in 2018. The court also concluded that plaintiffs plausibly allege that the treatment they endured went well beyond what typical travelers reasonably expect during airport screenings. Finally, plaintiffs' factual allegations lead to the reasonable inference that the family's watchlist status remains the same today.However, the court held that plaintiffs lack standing to pursue prospective relief relating to certain actions taken by Government agents who detained them during their travel in 2018. In this case, plaintiffs claim that these actions violated established federal policies, but they lack standing because they have not plausibly alleged any impending or substantial risk of future harm. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part, remanding for further proceedings. View "Jibril v. Mayorkas" on Justia Law

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On January 6, 2021, a mob professing support for then-President Trump violently attacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying the electoral college votes designating Joseph R. Biden the 46th President. The House of Representatives subsequently established the Select Committee, charged with investigating and reporting on the attack and with making “legislative recommendations” and proposing “changes in law, policy, procedures, rules, or regulations” to prevent future acts of such violence and to improve the security of the U.S. Capitol Complex. The Committee sent a request to the Archivist of the United States under the Presidential Records Act, 44 U.S.C. 2205(2)(C), seeking the expeditious disclosure of presidential records pertaining to the events of January 6th, the former President’s claims of election fraud, and other related documents. Applying regulations adopted by the Trump Administration, President Biden concluded that a claim of executive privilege as to the documents at issue is “not in the best interests of the United States,” given the “unique and extraordinary circumstances” and Congress’s “compelling need” to investigate “an unprecedented effort to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power.”The D.C. Circuit declined to enjoin the release of the documents. Former President Trump has provided no basis for this court to override President Biden’s judgment and the agreement and accommodations worked out between the Political Branches. A former President must meet the same legal standards for obtaining preliminary injunctive relief as everyone else; former President Trump has failed that task. View "Trump v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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The State of Alaska and numerous intervenors filed suit challenging the Forest Service's issuance of the Roadless Rule, which prohibits (with some exceptions) all road construction, road reconstruction, and timber harvesting in inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands. After the district court dismissed the case on statute-of-limitations grounds, the DC Circuit reversed and remanded. On remand, the district court granted the summary-judgment motions of the Agriculture Department and its intervenor supporters. After briefing but before oral argument, the Agriculture Department granted Alaska's request to conduct a rulemaking to redetermine whether to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule. The DC Circuit ordered the appeals stayed pending completion of the rulemaking, and on October 29, 2020, the Agriculture Department issued a final rule exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule.The DC Circuit concluded that Alaska's claims regarding application of the Roadless Rule to the Tongass National Forest are moot, and dismissed these claims and vacated those portions of the district court's decision regarding the Tongass. The court dismissed the remaining claims on appeal for lack of standing. View "Alaska v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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Breiterman was subjected to three disciplinary actions imposed by her employer, the U.S. Capitol Police. She was suspended after commenting to fellow employees that women had to “sleep with someone” to get ahead. She was later placed on administrative leave and ultimately demoted for leaking a picture of an unattended Police firearm to the press. Although Breiterman admitted to this misconduct, she sued the Police, alleging sex discrimination, retaliation in violation of the Congressional Accountability Act, 2 U.S.C. 1301, and unlawful retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment.The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Police. The Police provided legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for suspending Breiterman, placing her on administrative leave during an investigation into the media leak, and demoting her from a supervisory position; nothing in the record would allow a reasonable jury to conclude that those reasons were a pretext for discrimination or retaliation. Supervisors are entrusted with greater authority than officers, held to a higher standard, and disciplined more severely than officers for similar violations, so Breiterman’s nonsupervisory comparators are too dissimilar to draw any inference of discriminatory treatment. Even assuming some procedural deviation occurred, the deviations were not so irregular as to indicate unlawful discrimination. View "Breiterman v. United States Capitol Police" on Justia 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