Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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John Russell Howald was convicted for a federal hate crime under 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(2) and discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). Howald had fired shots at a local woman's house in Basin, Montana, with the intent to "rid" the town of "lesbians and gays." The firearms and ammunition used in the offense had traveled across state lines.In the United States District Court for the District of Montana, Howald moved to dismiss both counts of the indictment, arguing that § 249(a)(2) exceeded Congress’s Commerce Clause power and that his § 249(a)(2) hate crime conviction was not a predicate crime of violence for § 924(c)(1)(A). The district court upheld the charges and rejected Howald's arguments.On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Howald reiterated his arguments. The appellate court held that the jurisdictional element in § 249(a)(2)(B)(iii) defeated the facial challenge to the statute's constitutionality. The court also rejected the as-applied challenge because the government had proven that the firearms and ammunition used in the offense had traveled across state lines. Furthermore, the court held that § 249(a)(2) is divisible, and that Howald’s offense is categorically a crime of violence because an attempt to kill in violation of § 249(a)(2)(A)(ii)(II) necessarily involves the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another per § 924(c)(3)(A). Therefore, the court affirmed Howald's convictions. View "United States v. Howald" on Justia Law

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The case involves two separate actions brought by B&L Productions, Inc., an operator of gun shows in California, against state officeholders tasked with enforcing various California statutes that bar the sale of guns on state property. B&L argued that these statutes violated its rights under the First and Second Amendments. In the first case, B&L challenged a ban on firearm sales at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. In the second case, B&L challenged bans on firearm sales at the Orange County Fairgrounds and on all state property.In the first case, the district court dismissed B&L’s lawsuit, holding that B&L had failed to state a claim that the ban violates its constitutional rights. In the second case, the district court granted B&L’s motion for a preliminary injunction, holding that B&L was likely to succeed on the merits of all its claims.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of B&L’s claims in the first case and vacated the district court’s order granting B&L’s motion for a preliminary injunction in the second case. The court held that the challenged statutes do not infringe on B&L’s constitutional rights. The court found that the statutes solely restrict nonexpressive conduct—contracting for the sale of firearms—and are not subject to First Amendment scrutiny. Furthermore, the court determined that the plain text of the Second Amendment does not cover B&L’s proposed conduct—namely, contracting for the sale of firearms and ammunition on state property. View "B & L PRODUCTIONS, INC. V. NEWSOM" on Justia Law

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In March 2020, Idaho enacted the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, a law that categorically bans transgender women and girls from participating in women's student athletics. The Act also provides a sex dispute verification process, which allows any individual to dispute the sex of any student athlete participating in female athletics in the State of Idaho and require her to undergo intrusive medical procedures to verify her sex. Lindsay Hecox, a transgender woman who wished to try out for the Boise State University women’s track and cross-country teams, and Jane Doe, a cisgender woman who played on high school varsity teams and feared that her sex would be disputed under the Act due to her masculine presentation, filed a lawsuit against the Act.The United States District Court for the District of Idaho granted a preliminary injunction against the Act, holding that it likely violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court found that the Act subjects only students who wish to participate in female athletic competitions to an intrusive sex verification process and categorically bans transgender girls and women at all levels from competing on female teams. The court also found that the State of Idaho failed to provide any evidence demonstrating that the Act is substantially related to its asserted interests in sex equality and opportunity for women athletes.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, holding that the Act likely violates the Equal Protection Clause. The court found that the Act discriminates on the basis of transgender status and sex, and that it is not substantially related to its stated goals of equal participation and opportunities for women athletes. The court remanded the case to the district court to reconsider the appropriate scope of injunctive relief. View "Hecox v. Little" on Justia Law

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Seattle Pacific University (SPU), a religious institution, filed a lawsuit against the Washington Attorney General, alleging First Amendment violations arising from the Attorney General's investigation into the university's employment policies and history under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). SPU prohibits employees from engaging in same-sex intercourse and marriage. After receiving complaints, the Attorney General requested documents related to SPU's employment policies, employee complaints, and job descriptions. SPU sought to enjoin the investigation and any future enforcement of WLAD.The district court dismissed the suit, citing lack of redressability and Younger abstention. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court held that SPU failed to allege a cognizable injury for its retrospective claims, as the Attorney General's request for documents carried no penalties for non-compliance. However, the court found that SPU had standing for its prospective pre-enforcement injury claims, as SPU intended to continue employment practices arguably proscribed by WLAD, the Attorney General had not disavowed its intent to investigate and enforce WLAD against SPU, and SPU's injury was redressable. The court also held that Younger abstention was not warranted as there were no ongoing enforcement actions or any court judgment. The case was remanded to the district court to consider prudential ripeness. View "SEATTLE PACIFIC UNIVERSITY V. FERGUSON" on Justia Law

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The case involves a challenge to the constitutionality of private prisons in Arizona. The plaintiffs, the Arizona State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and two former prisoners, argued that private prisons, driven by profit, compromise safety and security and reduce programming and services. They also claimed that private prisons have a financial incentive to keep prisoners incarcerated longer by manipulating disciplinary proceedings.The United States District Court for the District of Arizona dismissed the case, leading to an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The district court held that the plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege that private prisons violate prisoners' procedural due process rights, the Thirteenth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the NAACP had standing to bring the suit. However, it held that the plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege that private prisons violate prisoners' procedural due process rights. The court also found that the Thirteenth Amendment does not prohibit incarceration in a private prison, and that the plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege that confinement in a private prison violates the Eighth Amendment. Finally, the court held that the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses do not prohibit incarceration in a private prison. View "NIELSEN V. THORNELL" on Justia Law

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The case involves Steven Duarte, who was convicted for violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), a law that prohibits anyone previously convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for over a year from possessing a firearm. Duarte, who had five prior non-violent state criminal convictions, was charged and convicted under this law after police saw him discard a handgun from a moving car.Duarte appealed his conviction, arguing that § 922(g)(1) violated his Second Amendment rights. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with Duarte, finding that the law was unconstitutional as applied to him, a non-violent offender who had served his time in prison and reentered society. The court held that under the Supreme Court's decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass'n v. Bruen, § 922(g)(1) violated the Second Amendment as applied to Duarte. The court concluded that Duarte's weapon, a handgun, is an "arm" within the meaning of the Second Amendment, and that the government failed to prove that § 922(g)(1)'s categorical prohibition, as applied to Duarte, is part of the historic tradition that delimits the outer bounds of the Second Amendment right. As a result, the court vacated Duarte's conviction and reversed the district court's judgment. View "USA V. DUARTE" on Justia Law

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Five registered gun owners in California challenged a state law, Assembly Bill 173 (AB 173), which permits the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to share information from its databases about firearm and ammunition purchasers and concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit holders with accredited research institutions. The plaintiffs argued that the law violated their right to informational privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment, their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, and the federal Privacy Act.The district court dismissed the case, finding that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim for violation of the right to informational privacy. The court reasoned that the personal information in the DOJ's databases was not highly sensitive or intimate and that the plaintiffs had no reasonable expectation that such information would never be disclosed. The court also found that AB 173 did not restrict conduct protected by the Second Amendment, as it did not impede the plaintiffs' ability to purchase, keep, carry, or use firearms. The court further held that AB 173 was not unconstitutionally retroactive, as it did not attach new legal consequences to past conduct. Finally, the court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the Privacy Act preempted two California statutes relating to CCW permit applications, as neither statute required the disclosure of social security numbers.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, agreeing with its findings and reasoning. The court held that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim for violation of the right to informational privacy, the Second Amendment, or the Privacy Act. View "JANE DOE V. BONTA" on Justia Law

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A man named Douglas Bradford was convicted of first-degree murder in a "cold case" that was solved 35 years after the crime occurred. The case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. The trial judge excluded exculpatory evidence of another viable suspect, Joseph Giarrusso, who had dinner with the victim on the evening of the murder and was the last known person to see her alive.The California Court of Appeal upheld the conviction, ruling that the exclusion of the evidence was consistent with the rules of evidence and therefore did not violate the Constitution. The court also found that the evidence related to Giarrusso was not sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt about Bradford's guilt.Bradford appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, arguing that the exclusion of the evidence violated his constitutional right to present a defense. The Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court's decision, finding that the exclusion of the evidence was both contrary to and an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court law. The court also found that the decision was based on an unreasonable determination of facts. The court remanded the case with instructions to grant a conditional writ of habeas corpus, ordering Bradford's release unless the state of California notifies the district court within thirty days of the issuance of the court’s mandate that it intends to retry Bradford without excluding the evidence pertaining to Giarrusso, and commences Bradford’s retrial within seventy days of issuance of the mandate. View "BRADFORD V. PARAMO" on Justia Law

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Jeremy Travis Payne, a California parolee, was arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, fluorofentanyl, and cocaine. The charges stemmed from evidence obtained from a house in Palm Desert, California, and from Payne's cell phone, which was unlocked by police using Payne's thumbprint during a traffic stop. Payne moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the search of his phone and the house violated his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.The district court denied Payne's motion. It found that the search of Payne's phone was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment given Payne's parole status and the conditions of his parole, which allowed for suspicionless searches of his property. The court also determined that the use of Payne's thumbprint to unlock his phone was not testimonial and therefore did not violate his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the search of Payne's phone did not violate the Fourth Amendment. It found that the search was authorized under a general search condition of Payne's parole, which allowed for the suspicionless search of any property under Payne's control. The court also held that the search of Payne's phone was not unreasonable under California law, which prohibits arbitrary, capricious, or harassing searches.Regarding the Fifth Amendment claim, the court held that the use of Payne's thumbprint to unlock his phone was not testimonial because it required no cognitive exertion. Therefore, the Fifth Amendment did not apply.Finally, the court held that there was sufficient probable cause to support the issuance of a search warrant for the house in Palm Desert, California, without regard to observations made during a challenged protective sweep of the house. View "USA V. PAYNE" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to deny absolute and qualified immunity to two social workers, Gloria Vazquez and Mirta Johnson, in a case brought against them by Sydney Rieman and her child, K.B. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants violated their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by (1) failing to provide them with notice of a juvenile detention hearing where the County’s Child and Family Services sought custody of K.B., and (2) providing false information to the Juvenile Court about why Ms. Rieman was not noticed for the hearing.The court rejected the defendants' claim that they were entitled to absolute immunity for actions taken in their quasi-prosecutorial role as social workers. The court determined that the failure to provide notice of the hearing and the provision of false information to the Juvenile Court were not similar to discretionary decisions about whether to prosecute. Therefore, absolute immunity did not apply.The court also held that the defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity from suit for failing to provide notice of the hearing and for providing false information to the Juvenile Court. The court affirmed that Ms. Rieman had a due process right to such notice and that this right was clearly established. It was also clear that providing false information to the court constituted judicial deception. The court concluded that a reasonable social worker in the defendants' position would have understood that their actions were violating the plaintiffs' constitutional rights. View "RIEMAN V. VAZQUEZ" on Justia Law