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7th Circuit Decertifies Class Of Immigrants
Headline News | 2008/06/30 16:00

Immigrants who claimed they were illegally detained at the U.S. border because they wrongfully appeared on the Department of Homeland Security's watch list should pursue their constitutional claims against the government individually and not as a class, the 7th Circuit ruled.

Judge Easterbrook reversed class certification for a group of immigrants whose re-entry into the United States was delayed because they showed up on the watch lists as potential terrorists or otherwise dangerous individuals and were carefully screened. Some of the plaintiffs said they never belonged on the list in the first place, because they posed no threat of terrorism or other violent behavior. Others said they are not actually on the list, but have been mistaken for a listed person with a similar or identical name.

All claimed the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security need to find a better system of classifying potentially threatening individuals and removing those who do not belong on the list.

They sued for damages, claiming government agents violated their rights by delaying their re-entry and by pointing weapons at them.

Easterbrook called the latter claim "questionable" and pointed out that the nation has an inherent authority to protect its borders. Even so, he rejected plaintiffs' request for an injunction covering "just about every aspect of entry procedure," including the degree of suspicion required for inquiry, the way officials confirm a person's identity, and how the FBI closes its investigations. They sought to strip the executive branch of its role in reshaping the system and to make the necessary reforms through an injunction covering larges classes: one for detained travelers and another for the relatives and travel companions of detained travelers.

"It isn't hard to see problems with these class definitions," Easterbrook said, launching a list of bulleted issues, including that the classes "grow or shrink with the plaintiffs' contentions as the case progresses," and that the word "detention" could mean "anything from 'stopped for 60 seconds to present a passport' to 'held incommunicado for more than a day.'"

The court concluded that the plaintiffs' claims are "best handled by individual suits for damages."

U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down DC Restriction on Guns
Headline News | 2008/06/27 14:50
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the Second Amendment protects individuals' right to own a gun, not just the right of states to arm their militias. Ruling in the closely watched District of Columbia v. Heller, the 5-4 majority struck down a Washington, D.C. law making it difficult for residents to own a handgun.

In the 157-page opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the Constitution does not allow "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home."

The D.C. law bans handguns by making it a crime to carry an unregistered firearm and barring residents from keeping unregistered handguns in their homes. Registered guns must be "unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device," regulations that make the guns useless for self defense, according to gun-rights advocates.

Dick Heller, a D.C. special police officer, challenged the law after the city refused to let him register a handgun for home use. The district court dismissed his case, but the D.C. Circuit reversed, holding that he had a constitutional right to keep a gun in his home.

The nation's high court echoed the D.C. Circuit's decision.

The Second Amendment establishes that, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Scalia said the amendment could be rephrased: "Because a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

He further dissected the language to conclude that it applied to private citizens.

"Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation," Scalia wrote.

Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, arguing that the amendment "protects militia-related, not self-defense-related, interests." He was joined by Justices Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg. They also argued that the protections of the Second Amendment are not absolute. The D.C. gun regulations were adopted in 2001 to reduce the 25,000 guns deaths per year in the nation, 3,000 of which were accidental. Breyer cited a 2001 committee report stating that "for every intruder stopped by a homeowner with a firearm, there are four gun-related accidents within the home."

Relying heavily on statistics, Breyer determined that "the District's decision represents the kind of empirically based judgment that legislatures, not courts, are best suited to make."

Supreme Court rules Americans have a right to own guns
Headline News | 2008/06/26 14:39

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Americans have a right to own guns for self-defense and hunting, the justices' first major pronouncement on gun rights in U.S. history.

The court's 5-4 ruling struck down the District of Columbia's 32-year-old ban on handguns as incompatible with gun rights under the Second Amendment. The decision went further than even the Bush administration wanted, but probably leaves most firearms laws intact.

The court had not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment since its ratification in 1791. The amendment reads: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

The basic issue for the justices was whether the amendment protects an individual's right to own guns no matter what, or whether that right is somehow tied to service in a state militia.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that an individual right to bear arms is supported by "the historical narrative" both before and after the Second Amendment was adopted.

The Constitution does not permit "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home," Scalia said. The court also struck down Washington's requirement that firearms be equipped with trigger locks or kept disassembled, but left intact the licensing of guns.

In a dissent he summarized from the bench, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the majority "would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons."

He said such evidence "is nowhere to be found."

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a separate dissent in which he said, "In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas."

Joining Scalia were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. The other dissenters were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter.

Gun rights supporters hailed the decision. "I consider this the opening salvo in a step-by-step process of providing relief for law-abiding Americans everywhere that have been deprived of this freedom," said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.

The NRA will file lawsuits in San Francisco, Chicago and several of its suburbs challenging handgun restrictions there based on Thursday's outcome.

The capital's gun law was among the nation's strictest.

Officer Isn't Immune For Cheap Shot To Fellow Cop
Headline News | 2008/06/25 14:36
A police officer exceeded the limits of his qualified immunity when he repeatedly stomped a prone man in the groin, the D.C. Circuit ruled.

The victim of Officer Jeffrey Bruce's attack was fellow Officer Juan Johnson.

Johnson's "off-duty act of kindness to a stranger in distress landed him in the middle of a drug bust in which he was repeatedly kicked in the groin by a police officer who mistook him for a criminal," Judge Griffith explained.

Johnson unwittingly helped a stranger escape from "stick-up guys," who turned out to be police officers.

The stranger was Andre Clinton, who was running from police after selling drugs to an undercover officer.

When the police arrived, Johnson was unable to convince the officers that he was one of them, so he lay down on the ground. Bruce then put the boots to Johnson before realizing his mistake.

"A reasonable officer would not have kicked the surrendering suspect in the groin," Judge Griffith wrote. "Johnson ... spread his arms and legs in a manner announcing submission."

Griffith also wrote that Bruce should not have attacked Johnson's groin.

"Striking the groin is the classic example of fighting dirty," Griffith wrote. "From the schoolyard scrapper to the champion prizefighter, no pugilist takes lightly the threat of a hit below the belt."

Johnson reported passing blood in his urine after the incident.

Legal help too slow in Texas arrest, high court says
Headline News | 2008/06/24 15:06
A man whose life was turned upside-down by a wrongful arrest and weeks in jail should have been given access to a lawyer sooner so he could have shown the arrest was erroneous, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Monday.

The high court ruled 8-1 in favor of Walter Rothgery. In 2004, three weeks after he arrived from Arizona to take a job managing an RV park in Gillespie County, Rothgery was arrested for carrying a gun as a convicted felon. No lawyer was provided at his first court hearing and his wife used their last $500 for bail.

The arrest was based on a mistake in a computer database that showed he was a felon, which left him unable to find a full-time job. By the time he was indicted six months later, he was broke, his bond had tripled and he was sent back to a county jail 100 miles from his home.

A sympathetic warden helped Rothgery find an attorney to obtain documentation showing he had no felony record. He was released and the weapons charge finally was dropped.

Rothgery sued Gillespie County for violating his constitutional right to counsel. When a federal court and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the case, his attorneys went to the Supreme Court. The ruling Monday returns his lawsuit to the lower courts.

"Texas really is part of America now," Rothgery, 57, told The Associated Press on Monday from Llano, where he works in an equipment rental store. "I am fairly pleased. I was trying to keep an even keel. It got harder as we got to the end of June.

"Now I can let it loose. Before I was trying to hold back and try not get my hopes too high."

Rothgery's lawyers argued Texas should provide a defense lawyer for indigent clients once they've made a first appearance before a magistrate, even if no prosecutor was present.

Court rejects case on fast track for border fence
Headline News | 2008/06/23 14:29
The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a plea by environmental groups to rein in the Bush administration's power to waive laws and regulations to speed construction of a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has used authority given to him by Congress in 2005 to ignore environmental and other laws and regulations to move forward with hundreds of miles of fencing in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.

The case rejected by the court involved a two-mile section of fence in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area near Naco, Ariz. The section has since been built.

"I am extremely disappointed in the court's decision," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said. "This waiver will only prolong the department from addressing the real issue: their lack of a comprehensive border security plan."

Thompson chairs the House Homeland Security Committee. He and 13 other House democrats — including six other committee chairs — filed a brief in support of the environmentalists' appeal.

Earlier this year, Chertoff waived more than 30 laws and regulations in an effort to finish building 670 miles of fence along the southwest border. Administration officials have said that invoking the legal waivers — which Congress authorized in 1996 and 2005 laws — will cut through bureaucratic red tape and sidestep environmental laws that currently stand in the way of fence construction.

1st black La. Supreme Court justice dies at 84
Attorneys News | 2008/06/23 14:29
Revius Ortique Jr., the first black justice on the Louisiana Supreme Court, has died of complications from a stroke. He was 84.

Current Supreme Court Justice Kitty Kimball says Ortique died Sunday.

Ortique was elected to the court in 1992, but had to step down two years later when he reached the state's mandatory retirement age for judges at 70.

As a civil rights lawyer in the 1950s and '60s, he helped integrate state labor unions and sued to get equal pay for black workers.

He held several presidential appointments, including a stint as an alternate delegate to the United Nations under President Clinton.

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