By: Joseph C. Johnson

On May 5, 2019, Dillon Webb was pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy in Columbia County, Florida, for a sticker that read “I EAT A*S” on the rear window of his truck.[1]  Webb was arrested under a Florida obscenity statute after refusing to alter the sticker, and the officers that made the arrest were granted qualified immunity.[2]  Similarly, Paul Robert Cohen was convicted under a California obscenity statute in 1971 for wearing a jacket that read “F**k the Draft” in a California county courthouse.[3]  However, the Supreme Court of the United States held that a state may not criminalize the public display of an expletive without a specific, compelling reason.[4]  On the surface, these two cases appear to ask the same question–whether a state may prohibit the public display of an obscene word or phrase without violating the constitutional rights granted by the First Amendment.  So why were the officers in Webb’s case granted qualified immunity while the First Amendment protected Cohen’s jacket from a similar obscenity statute?

In Cohen’s case, the constitutional protection of his speech depended on the context in which he displayed the four-letter word.[5]  There, Cohen donned the jacket he had emblazoned with “F**k the Draft” in the Los Angeles County Courthouse corridor.[6]  He testified that he wore the jacket “as a means of informing the public of the depth of his feelings against the Vietnam War and the draft.”[7]  In its analysis, the Supreme Court found that his jacket’s message was not erotic in nature–that it would not “conjure up such psychic stimulation in anyone likely to be confronted with Cohen’s crudely defaced jacket”–and thus, it was not truly a question of obscenity.[8]  The Court reversed Cohen’s conviction for several reasons, the most relevant of which here are (1) forbidding particular words creates a high risk of suppressing ideas, and (2) that “linguistic expression . . . conveys not only ideas capable of relatively precise, detached explication, but otherwise inexpressible emotions as well.”[9]  This decision illuminated a specific area of speech that the First Amendment protects and warned against government bans on specific words to prevent the expression of unpopular views.[10]

To distinguish Webb’s case involving his window sticker, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida focused on the context of his arrest.[11]  Sheriff’s deputy English noticed Webb’s sticker at a stoplight and stopped Webb’s vehicle because he believed the sticker to violate Florida’s obscenity statute.[12]  Deputy English commanded Webb to remove a letter from the window sticker, but Webb refused to do so under the claim that the First Amendment protection of free speech included his window sticker.[13]  Deputy English contacted his supervisor and subsequently arrested Webb and had his vehicle towed.[14]  This case boiled down to Deputy English’s belief at the time that his actions were within the state’s power.[15]  The District Court found that a reasonable officer in Deputy English’s position could have reasonably believed that Webb’s sticker depicted a sexual act, thus potentially violating Florida’s obscenity statute.[16]  This reasonable belief, supported by Webb’s contention that the sticker was sexual in nature, granted qualified immunity to Deputy English and his supervisor.[17]  The Court put particular emphasis on the sexual nature of Webb’s sticker, citing this as the reason that it is distinct from similar cases–indeed, using it to distinguish the case from Cohen specifically.[18] 

The District Court for the Middle District of Florida held that an officer could have reasonably believed that the sticker was obscene per Florida’s obscenity laws, which was distinct from Cohen’s jacket.[19]  On the other hand, Cohen’s jacket was constitutionally protected because it was not erotic in nature despite the expletive on it.[20]  As such, a rule regarding public displays of expletives is further illuminated.  So long as the message cannot be reasonably interpreted to depict a sexual act or be otherwise erotic in nature, it will be constitutionally protected despite the expletives it includes.


[1] Webb v. English, No. 3:19-cv-975-MMH-JBT, 2021 U.S. Dist.  LEXIS 181927, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 23, 2021).

[2] Id. at *4, *19–21.

[3] Cohen v. Cal., 403 U.S. 15, 16 (1971).

[4] Id. at 26.

[5] Id. at 19–21.

[6] Id. at 16.

[7] Id. at 16 (citing 81 Cal. Rptr. 503, 505 (1969)).

[8] Id. at 20.

[9] Id. at 26. 

[10] Columbia University, Cohen v. California, Global Freedom of Expression (Oct. 9, 2021, 3:00 PM),  https://globalfreedomofexpression.columbia.edu/cases/cohen-v-california/.

[11] Webb v. English, No. 3:19-cv-975-MMH-JBT, 2021 U.S. Dist.  LEXIS 181927, at *2–7 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 23, 2021).

[12] Id. at *2.  See Fla. Stat. § 847.011.

[13] Webb v. English, 2021 U.S. Dist.  LEXIS 181927, at *3.

[14] Id. at *4.

[15] Id. at *14–21.

[16] Id. at *18.

[17] Id. at *19–22.

[18] Id. at *18–26.

[19] Id. at *26.

[20] Cohen v. Cal., 403 U.S. 15, 20 (1971).

By Jacob Winton

On July 20, 2021, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the National Security Powers Act of 2021[1] (“NSPA”), a bipartisan bid to reign in the war powers of the Executive Branch.  The bill, which would impose substantial limitations on presidential power,[2] would allow “Congress [] to reclaim its rightful role as co-equal branch on matters of war and national security” and “make sure that there is a full, open and public debate on all major national security decisions” according to Senator Murphy.[3]  The effort seeks to reverse what many view as the “steady erosion of Congress’s power to prevent, confine, or even direct military action and [the] steady accretion of executive discretion and control.”[4]  This shift in the balance of power has been driven in large part by the “Presidentialist” perspective, an approach to presidential war power in which the executive is “constrained in its ability to engage military force abroad only by Congress’s appropriations and impeachment powers.”[5] 

But the historical record leaves little doubt as to who the framers of the Constitution believed should decide when and where to wage war.[6]  Pursuant to the Constitution, the President directs the armed forces as commander in chief,[7]  but “Congress alone has the power to declare war and fund military operations.”[8]  Prior to World War II, the branches of government adhered closely to these guidelines—American military action was routinely preceded by a formal declaration, issued by Congress in response to a request from the President, authorizing the President to engage in military operations against a foreign nation.[9]  However, despite once being deemed a “necessary prerequisite” to military action, “declarations have fallen into disuse” since World War II.[10]  More recently, presidents have become increasingly comfortable engaging in military action abroad without direct congressional approval.[11]

The last formal declaration of war in the United States was issued in 1942 against Romania.[12]  Since then, Congress’s role has withered as the system evolved from a collaborative decision-making process between the Legislative and Executive Branches into “an interagency process subordinating military force within a foreign policy system under the Executive Branch.”[13]  So far, Congress has failed to muster a response sufficient to rebuke the encroachment of the Executive Branch.  For example, after the war effort in Vietnam failed, Congress overrode President Nixon’s veto to pass the War Powers Resolution of 1973[14] under the mistaken belief that it would restore “collective legislative-executive judgment in the war-making process.”[15]  Ultimately, however, the effect of the War Powers Resolution “has been minimal.”[16]

During the 21st century, the accumulation of executive war power has accelerated.[17]  Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush’s approach to executive war power was rooted in the “assert[ions] of broad, uncheckable power” by former Presidents Nixon and Reagan.[18]  The Bush White House provided fertile ground for the unitary executive theory, an expansive view of executive power “that had been percolating in the conservative movement for years” and was brought to national prominence in large part by Vice President Dick Cheney.[19] In the aftermath of 9/11, the theory became a “convenient tool seized upon in a time of crisis”[20] to justify unilateral presidential military initiatives that flouted international treaties, violated domestic law, and “led to a widespread government policy and practice of torture.”[21]

Despite the disapproval of both the public and the Supreme Court,[22] the continuing exercise of military power without express authorization has “normalized the unbalanced relationship between Congress and the Executive.”[23]  Modern presidents have resorted to the circular and self-strengthening argument that military action in the absence of congressional approval should be “accepted by mere virtue of past practice.”[24]  In 2011, for instance, the Obama administration Department of Justice qualified President Obama’s use of military force in Libya[25] without congressional approval as constitutional by insisting that “the historical practice of presidential military action without congressional approval precludes any suggestion that Congress’s authority to declare war covers every military engagement, however limited, that the President initiates.”[26]  Moreover, in the wake of Congress’s response to 9/11, presidents have used the Authorizations for the Use of Military Force passed in 2001[27] and 2002[28] to justify military action years later “against terrorist organizations that did not exist at the time of the 9/11 attacks, are active in regions far removed from Al Qaeda’s areas of operation, and that have no known affiliation with Al Qaeda,” effectively bypassing Congress altogether.[29]

It is against this backdrop that Senators Sanders, Murphy, and Lee have introduced the NSPA.  While the Presidentialists welcome the expansion of executive war power, the NSPA represents the concern that unchecked executive power poses a grave threat to our constitutional system.[30]  On a practical level, Senator Lee explained that the NSPA meets an urgent need to restore accountability because “America’s global standing, treasure, and brave service members are being lost in conflict’s the people’s legislators never debated.”[31]  This latest proposal may or may not become law, but unless Congress can reclaim its constitutional role, the growing concentration of war powers in the executive, a danger the framers were keenly aware of, threatens to become a permanent feature of our government.


[1] S. 2391, 117th Cong. (2021).

[2] Notably, the NSPA would repeal all existing war authorizations and defund any military operation not explicitly greenlit by Congress, make it easier for Congress to reverse presidential foreign policy decisions, and roll back presidential access to emergency national security powers. Andrew Desiderio, Unlikely Senate Alliance Aims to Claw Back Congress’ Foreign Policy Powers ‘Before It’s too Late’, Politico (July 20, 2021, 6:00 A.M.), https://www.politico.com/news/2021/07/20/bipartisan-senators-congress-war-powers-500214.

[3] Id.

[4] Mark E. Brandon, War and the American Constitutional Order, 56 Vand. L. Rev. 1815, 1847 (2003).

[5] Jake Novack, Note, Exploring Executive War Power: The Rise and Reign of the Presidentialist Interpretation, 53 Cal. W. L. Rev. 247, 249 (2017).

[6] See, e.g., Ronald J. Sievert, Campbell v. Clinton and the Continuing Effort to Reassert Congress’ Predominant Constitutional Authority to Commence, or Prevent, War, 105 Dick. L. Rev. 157, 159 (2001) (citing debate transcript from Constitutional Convention’s Committee on Drafting to demonstrate broad agreement that the executive cannot “commence war”); see also The Federalist No. 69 at 465 (Alexander Hamilton) (Cook ed. 1961) (distinguishing the power of the President as “much inferior” to that of the British King because it does not extend to “the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of the fleets and armies”).

[7] U.S. Const. art. II, § 2.

[8] Donald A. Dechert, III, Note, Perpetual Warfare: Proposing a New American Constitutional Amendment for the War Powers, 52 Val. U. L. Rev. 457, 482 (2018); see also U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 18.

[9] Id. at 461–62; see also, e.g., Joint Resolution of December 12, 1941, Pub. L. No. 77-331, 55 Stat. 796 (formally declaring war on Germany during World War II).

[10] Jennifer K. Elsea & Matthew C. Weed, Cong. Rsch. Serv., RL31133, Declarations of War and Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Historical Background and Legal Implications 23 (Apr. 18, 2014).

[11] See, e.g., Novack, supra note 5, at 249–50 (“[T]he Obama Administration’s military actions in Libya and operations against al-Qa’ida (including its affiliates, associated forces, and successors) in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Syria occurred and continue without explicit congressional authorization”).

[12] Elsea & Weed, supra note 10, at 4.

[13] Dechert, supra note 8, at 462.

[14] 50 U.S.C. §§ 1541–48.

[15] Michael J. Glennon, The War Powers Resolution Ten Years Later: More Politics than Law, 78 Am. J. Int’l L. 571, 571 (1984).

[16] Brandon, supra note 4, at 1855.  Since its passage, the War Powers Resolution “has been ignored or flouted far more frequently than followed” and even when presidents have complied with its requirements, “they have sometimes done so without conceding the existence of a constitutional obligation.” Id.

[17] See, e.g., Richard E. Levy, Presidential Power in the Obama and Trump Administrations, 87 J. Kan. Bar Ass’n 46, 47 (2018) (“One consistent trend since the time of the founding has been the expansion of presidential authority.  In recent years, this trend has accelerated at an exponential rate, propelled by the war on terror and the dysfunction of our hyperpartisan Congress”).

[18] Erwin Chemerinsky, The Assault on the Constitution: Executive Power and the War on Terrorism, 40 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1, 7 (2006).

[19] Novack, supra note 5, at 268. Before ascending to the vice presidency, Cheney offered a “vociferous defense of executive prerogative” as Wyoming’s senior representative in the House in response to “outright congressional fury” at the Nixon administration for its defiance of congressional mandates during the Iran-Contra affair. Id.  Later, as Vice President, Cheney “staffed the White House with individuals who shared his belief that the executive branch was aptly suited for expansive power,” thus setting the stage for the full embrace of the unitary executive theory in the aftermath of 9/11. Id. at 271.

[20] Id. at 272.

[21] Michael P. Scharf, The Torture Lawyers, 20 Duke J. Compar. & Int’l L. 389, 391 (2010).

[22] See, e.g., Gregory P. Noone, The War Powers Resolution and Public Opinion, 45 Case Western Rsrv. J. Int’l L. 145, 152–54 (2012) (detailing decades of public opinion polling demonstrating broad agreement that congressional approval should be required for the President to take military action); see also, e.g., Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 536 (2004) (rebuking the Bush administration’s assertion of the authority to deprive detainees at Guantanamo Bay of access to federal courts as an attempt to “turn our system of checks and balances on its head”).

[23] Novack, supra note 5, at 272.

[24] Id. at 272–73.

[25] President Obama has since stated that our military action in Libya “didn’t work” and that “failing to plan for the day after” was his worst mistake as president. Dominic Tierney, The Legacy of Obama’s ‘Worst Mistake’, The Atlantic (Apr. 15, 2016), https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/04/obamas-worst-mistake-libya/478461/.

[26] Authority to Use Military Force in Libya, 35 Op. O.L.C. 20, 31 (2011).

[27] See Authorization for Use of Military Force, Pub. L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 (2001) (authorizing military action against those responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks).

[28] See Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-243, 116 Stat. 1498.  

[29] Levy, supra note 17, at 47.

[30] Chemerinsky, supra note 18, at 16 (“The framers of the Constitution feared executive power the most”).

[31] Desiderio, supra note 2.


Post image by Daniel Mennerich on Flickr

By Grace Koppenheffer

When systems work as expected, people generally are content to let such systems work in the background—the shadows—without needing to know the details. When those same systems start producing different and unexpected results, however, people want to shine a light into the shadows to understand, diagnose, and if needed, fix the system.

The concept of the shadow docket has been around since the Supreme Court’s inception,[1] but the term itself was first coined in 2015 by William Baude to refer to the Court’s “range of orders and summary decisions that defy its normal procedural regularity.”[2] Unlike the more well-known process of the “merits docket,” where the Court writes an opinion after multiple rounds of briefing and oral arguments, rulings from the shadow docket almost always come as orders from either a single Justice or the Court.[3] These orders usually come after only one round, or less, of briefing, do not contain a majority opinion nor reasoning, and most of the time provide no record of voting.[4] Because these orders can be handed down at any time—even in the middle of the night—and lack transparency, “these rulings come both literally and figuratively in the shadows.”[5]

Although the Court issues thousands of orders via the shadow docket each year, until recently, many did not pay much attention to the shadow docket because it was meant to resolve “unremarkable scenarios.”[6] For example, the Court has utilized the shadow docket to issue uncontentious decisions such as denying uncontroversial petitions for certiorari, denying petitions that clearly did not meet the criteria for emergency relief, granting additional time for parties to file briefs, and other procedures related to the Court.[7] Recently, however, the shadow docket has faced increased scrutiny focusing on a relatively small subset of cases that employ the shadow docket to seek emergency relief.

Although the Supreme Court has the power to grant emergency relief through issuing injunctions, and issuing and lifting stays,[8] the Court recognizes that these are “drastic and extraordinary remedies,”[9] which should be granted only when “adequate relief cannot be obtained in any other form or from any other court.”[10] In order to circumvent the typical appeals process and petition the Court for emergency relief, petitioners must show that “irreparable harm [will] result from the denial of a stay.”[11]

Congress has begun investigating the Court’s emergency relief orders because of the increased number and variety of cases for such relief.[12] Between 2001 and 2017, the Department of Justice only filed eight applications for emergency relief.[13] During the four years of the Trump administration, however, the Department of Justice filed forty-one such petitions, twenty-four of which were granted in full, and four in part.[14]

Additionally, the types of cases on which the Court has rendered decisions through the shadow docket has not only broadened, but also has become more divisive.[15] Although there were some controversial rulings via the shadow docket in the past, most of these decisions concerned elections and the death penalty.[16] In the last few years, shadow docket decisions have expanded to include cases regarding the border wall,[17] gathering restrictions due to COVID-19,[18] federal executions,[19] abortion bans,[20] eviction moratoriums,[21] and immigration policy regarding asylum seekers.[22] The Justices, like the public, have also been divided on these controversial issues. Of the eight emergency relief applications filed by the Justice Department between 2001 and 2017, only one had a dissent.[23] Conversely, in twenty-seven of the thirty-six[24] orders regarding the emergency relief applications filed during the Trump administration, at least one Justice publicly dissented.[25] Moreover, during the October 2019 Term, the number of 5-4 decisions from the shadow docket was almost equal to the number of 5-4 decisions on the merits docket.[26]

A major criticism of the recent orders the Court has issued via the shadow docket is that they are inconsistent with one another and with past precedent, leading some to view the decisions as advancing policy rather than the law.[27] In some cases, the Court has changed substantive law through emergency relief orders, articulating new constitutional rules to support such relief.[28] For example, in Tandon v. Newsom,[29] the Court issued an emergency injunction against a California law that prohibited in-home gatherings, including Bible studies and prayer meetings.[30] In its order, the Court adopted an expansive view of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause which “no prior majority opinion had ever adopted. . . .”[31]

Conversely, in other cases, the Court has refused to grant emergency relief for constitutional rights. For instance, in Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson,[32] the Court denied injunctive relief regarding a Texas law banning abortions after a heartbeat is detected, which is usually around six weeks.[33] Although the Court explicitly stated the “order [was] not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law,”[34] such a denial of injunction for “an obviously unconstitutional abortion regulation,”[35] defies precedent in such situations and led some to conclude that “the [C]ourt is advancing a partisan political agenda and not a legal one.”[36] When the Court uses the shadow docket to create a new interpretation of the First Amendment in one case but then refuses to utilize it to extend protection to an existing fundamental right in another, critics worry that such inconsistencies undermine the legitimacy of the Court.[37]

There are myriad problems with the recent shadow docket emergency relief cases. For one, the timing of these decisions, which can be handed down late at night,[38] and the usual absence of knowing which way Justices voted create opacity in the system.[39] Moreover, shadow docket orders often do not provide any reasoning for the decisions they hand down, making “it impossible to scrutinize the merits of the Court’s action in far too many of these cases.”[40] Due to this lack of reasoning, it is challenging for lower courts to know how to apply these decisions in subsequent cases, even though such orders are now meant to be treated as precedent.[41] Additionally, other interested parties do not provide input and the Court does not have the benefit of hearing oral arguments.[42] All of these issues ultimately culminate in reducing the Court’s legitimacy.[43]

In her dissent in Whole Woman’s Health, Justice Kagan denounced the majority’s decision stating, “[it] is emblematic of too much of this Court’s shadow-docket decisionmaking—which every day becomes more unreasoned, inconsistent, and impossible to defend.”[44] The Court’s new approach to emergency relief petitions via the shadow docket has garnered greater scrutiny of this system, shining a light into the shadowy process. Whether this new light allows the shadow docket decision making to continue, or whether Congress or the Court itself will attempt to recalibrate the system, remains to be seen.


[1] The Supreme Court’s Shadow Docket: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Cts., Intell. Prop., & the Int. of the H. Comm. on the Judiciary, 117th Cong. 1 (2021) (statement of Stephen I. Vladeck, Charles Alan Wright Chair Fed. Cts., U. Tex. Sch. L.), https://www.justsecurity.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Vladeck-Shadow-Docket-Testimony-02-18-2021.pdf.

[2] William Baude, Foreword: The Supreme Court’s Shadow Docket, 9 N.Y.U. J.L. & Liberty 1, 1 (2015).

[3] The Supreme Court’s Shadow Docket, supra note 1, at 1–2.

[4] Id. at 2.

[5] Id.

[6] Samantha O’Connell, Supreme Court “Shadow Docket” Under Review by U.S. House of Representatives, Am. Bar Ass’n: Project Blog (Apr. 14, 2021), https://www.americanbar.org/groups/committees/death_penalty_representation/publications/project_blog/scotus-shadow-docket-under-review-by-house-reps/.

[7] The Supreme Court’s Shadow Docket, supra note 1, at 2.

[8] See 28 U.S.C. § 1651; 28 U.S.C. § 2101(f).

[9] Ex parte Fahey, 332 U.S. 258, 259 (1947).

[10] Sup. Ct. R. 20(1) (2019).

[11] Conkright v. Frommert, 556 U.S. 1401, 1402 (2009) (quoting Rostker v. Goldberg, 448 U.S. 1306, 1308 (Brennan, J., in chambers)).

[12] Mark Joseph Stern, Congress Finally Scrutinizes One of SCOTUS’s Most Disturbing Practices, Slate (Feb. 18, 2021, 6:53 PM), https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/02/supreme-court-shadow-docket-house-hearing.html.

[13] The Supreme Court’s Shadow Docket, supra note 1, at 4.

[14] Id. at 4–5.

[15] Id. at 5–6.

[16] Id. at 2–3.

[17] Trump v. Sierra Club, 140 S. Ct. 2620, 2620 (2020) (mem.).

[18] South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, 141 S. Ct. 716, 716 (2021) (mem.).

[19] Montgomery v. Rosen, 141 S. Ct. 1144, 1144 (2021) (mem.).

[20] Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, No. 21A24, slip op. at 1 (2021) (mem).

[21] Ala. Ass’n Realtors v. Dep’t Health & Hum. Servs., No. 21A23, slip op. at 1 (2021) (per curiam) (mem.).

[22] Biden v. Texas, No. 21A21, slip op. at 1 (2021) (mem.).

[23] The Supreme Court’s Shadow Docket, supra note 1, at 5.

[24] Four of the total forty-one applications were withdrawn and one was held in abeyance. Id., at 4–5.

[25] Id. at 5.

[26] Id.

[27] Steve Vladeck, The Supreme Court Doesn’t Just Abuse its Shadow Docket. It Does So Inconsistently., Wash. Post (Sept. 23, 2021, 10:43 AM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/09/03/shadow-docket-elena-kagan-abortion/

[28] Stephen I. Vladeck, Opinion, The Supreme Court Is Making New Law in the Shadows, N.Y. Times (Apr. 15, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/15/opinion/supreme-court-religion-orders.html

[29] 141 S. Ct. 1294 (2021) (per curiam) (mem.).

[30] Stephen I. Vladeck, The Supreme Court Is Making New Law in the Shadows, supra note 28.

[31] Id.

[32] No. 21A24 (S. Ct. Sept. 1, 2021) (mem.).

[33] Id. at 1–2.

[34] Id. at 2.

[35] Id. at 1 (Kagan, J., dissenting).

[36] Vladeck, The Supreme Court Doesn’t Just Abuse its Shadow Docket. It Does So Inconsistently, supra note 27.

[37] Id.

[38] In 2020, two orders allowing the first federal executions in seventeen years were handed down at 2:10 am EST and 2:46 am EST. Another shadow docket was been handed down at 11:56 pm the night before Thanksgiving.  The Supreme Court’s Shadow Docket, supra note 1, at 13–14.

[39] Id. at 13.

[40] Id.

[41] Vladeck, The Supreme Court Doesn’t Just Abuse its Shadow Docket. It Does So Inconsistently, supra note 27.

[42] The Supreme Court’s Shadow Docket, supra note 1, at 14.

[43] Vladeck, The Supreme Court Doesn’t Just Abuse its Shadow Docket. It Does So Inconsistently, supra note 27.

[44] Whole Woman’s Health, No. 21A24, slip op. at 1–2 (Kagan, J., dissenting).

christianity, cross, gold, heritage, orthodox, building, architecture, religion, outdoors, church

Blake Davis

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the way Americans engage in their weekly religious practices.[1]  As with every other area of American life, religious organizations have become accustomed to providing socially distanced services and complying with both federal and state guidelines for safe worship experiences.[2]  As churches, synagogues, and mosques have transitioned to servicing their parishioners in the COVID-19 era, some religious organizations have faced restrictions that they allege are inconsistent with restrictions imposed on their non-religious counterparts down the street.[3]  These alleged inconsistent applications of law have led religious organizations to file lawsuits, challenging the alleged inconsistencies as improper violations of the Free Exercise Clause.[4]  The United States Supreme Court has become more open to these claims the longer the pandemic has gone on.  Both the Court’s initial government-friendly approach to addressing these cases and the Court’s recent religious organization-friendly approach to addressing these cases are each addressed, in turn, below.

Towards the beginning of the pandemic, the Supreme Court seemed to ascribe great weight to the extraordinary circumstances caused by the COVID-19 crisis and thus imposed a more restrictive standard on religious organizations, who sought to challenge COVID-related restrictions.  For example, in the May 2020 decision of South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom,[5] the Supreme Court denied an application for injunctive relief, arising from a COVID-related restriction on houses of worship in California.[6]  Four Justices noted their dissent from the case, meaning that South Bay was decided on a narrow 5-4 basis.[7]  In a solo concurrence, Chief Justice John Roberts provided the only recorded commentary supporting the majority’s decision.[8]

Chief Justice Roberts explained that California’s COVID restrictions “appear consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment” because California’s restrictions “treat[] more leniently only dissimilar activities . . . in which people neither congregate in large groups nor remain in close proximity for extended periods.”[9]  Because the “precise question of when restrictions on particular social activities should be lifted during the pandemic is a dynamic and fact-intensive matter,” Chief Justice Roberts concluded that the discretion afforded to state officials should be “especially broad.”[10] 

The dissenting Justices disagreed with the Chief Justice’s analysis.[11]  Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in a dissent joined by Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Neil Gorsuch, argued that an injunction should have been granted because “California’s latest safety guidelines discriminate against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses.”[12]  The dissenting Justices argued that California failed the balancing test for Free Exercise cases articulated in Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah,[13] which provides that the government must establish a “compelling government interest” for a regulation, treating religious organizations in a discriminatory manner, and that the government must ensure that such a regulation is “narrowly tailored to advance that interest.”[14]  According to the dissenting Justices, California’s imposition of an occupancy cap on religious services discriminated against religious organizations because California imposed no such occupancy cap on a “litany of other secular businesses.”[15] As such, the dissenting Justices determined that the religious organization merited injunctive relief.[16]

The Court continued to apply its more government-friendly approach to COVID-19 related restrictions on religious organizations in Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak.[17]  In Calvary Chapel, the Court denied injunctive relief to a church, which alleged that Nevada’s COVI-19 related occupancy requirements unconstitutionally discriminated against religious organizations, like Calvary Chapel, in favor of non-religious organizations, like casinos.[18]  The denial of the application for injunctive relief featured no concurrences or commentary, explaining the majority’s position.[19]

However, the same four Justices who dissented in South Bay also dissented in Calvary Chapel.[20]  In a solo dissent, Justice Gorsuch argued that Nevada’s regulations permitting casinos to admit “hundreds at once” while “churches, synagogues, and mosques are banned from admitting more than 50 worshippers” unconstitutionally violated the Free Exercise Clause.[21]  While acknowledging that the “world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges,” Justice Gorsuch summarized his argument by stating “there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.”[22]  Justice Samuel Alito dissented separately in an opinion joined by Justice Thomas and Justice Kavanaugh.[23]  These three Justices reached the same conclusion that the dissenters had reached in South Bay.  In the dissenting Justices’ view, the restrictions failed the Lukumi balancing test for Free Exercise Clause cases.[24]  The dissenters acknowledged that “[i]n times of crisis, public officials must respond quickly and decisively to evolving and uncertain situations” and that “the opening days of the COVID–19 outbreak plainly qualify” as an exigency, entitling public officials to significant discretion in crafting regulations.[25]  However, since the Calvary Chapel case was being considered more than four months after Nevada declared a state of emergency, the dissenting Justices concluded that “the problem is no longer one of exigency, but of considered yet discriminatory treatment of places of worship.”[26]

In a notable shift from the South Bay and Calvary Chapel decisions, the Court adopted its more religious organization-friendly approach to these COVID-related restriction claims, when the Court granted injunctive relief for a church and a synagogue in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo.[27]  In Roman Catholic Diocese, the Court had its first chance to address a religious organization’s application for injunctive relief from a COVID-related restriction since Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the Court.[28]  Both a synagogue and a church challenged New York’s COVID-related business capacity requirements, which allowed some businesses to admit “as many people as they wish” while prohibiting the synagogue and church from “admit[ting] more than 10 persons” to their worship services.[29]  Five Justices—the four dissenting Justices from South Bay and Calvary Chapel along with Justice Barrett—adopted the position taken by the dissenters in South Bay and Calvary Chapel.[30]  These Justices held that the plaintiffs were entitled to injunctive relief because New York had failed to pass the Lukumi balancing test.[31]

Three dissenting Justices—Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Elena Kagan, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor—argued that the plaintiffs in Roman Catholic Diocese no more merited injunctive relief than the plaintiffs in South Bay and Calvary Chapel, who had previously not merited injunctive relief.[32]  These three Justices argued that the plaintiffs had failed to establish that New York’s business occupancy requirements unconstitutionally discriminated against religious organizations in violation of the Free Exercise Clause.[33]  As such, the dissenting Justices argued that the injunction should not have been granted.[34]  Chief Justice Roberts also dissented on separate grounds, arguing that the case should have been dismissed as moot because the challenged regulations had been rescinded by New York during the case’s appeal.[35]

In the wake of Roman Catholic Diocese, the federal circuit courts have begun applying the Supreme Court’s less restrictive approach to analyzing COVID regulations that impact religious organizations.  For example, the Ninth Circuit, addressing the merits of the Calvary Chapel case rather than the request for injunctive relief pending appeal that was previously addressed by the Supreme Court, applied the Supreme Court’s analysis in the Roman Catholic Diocese decision to the facts of Calvary Chapel.[36]  A unanimous panel for the Ninth Circuit held that the Lukumi balancing test should be applied to the facts of the Calvary Chapel case.[37]  The Court further held that Nevada failed the Lukumi balancing test because the regulations were not narrowly tailored.[38]  The panel thus reversed the decision of the district court and remanded the case with instructions for the district court to issue a preliminary injunction, prohibiting Nevada from enforcing the occupancy regulations against the church or other religious organization.[39]

Because the Supreme Court has applied this more religious organization-friendly approach to COVID-19 related regulations, the lower federal courts are beginning to follow suit, as the panel opinion in Calvary Chapel demonstrates.  As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and vaccine distribution becomes more widespread, it is quite possible that this religious organization-friendly approach to COVID-19 related regulations will become even more commonplace across the federal courts.

 

 

[1] Frank Newport, Religion and the COVID-19 Virus in the U.S., Gallup.com (Apr. 6, 2020), https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/307619/religion-covid-virus.aspx

[2] See, e.g., Considerations for Communities of Faith, CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/faith-based.html (Dec. 30, 2020). 

[3] See, e.g., Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak, 140 S. Ct. 2603 (2020); S. Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, 140 S. Ct. 1613 (2020). 

[4] See, e.g., Calvary Chapel, 140 S. Ct. at 2603; S. Bay United Pentecostal Church, 140 S. Ct. at 1613. 

[5] 140 S. Ct. 1613 (2020). 

[6] Id. 

[7] Id. 

[8] Id. (Roberts, C.J., concurring). 

[9] Id. 

[10] Id. at 1613–14 (quoting Marshall v. United States, 414 U.S. 417, 427 (1974)) (internal quotation mark omitted). 

[11] Id. at 1614 (Kavanaugh, J., dissenting).  

[12] Id. 

[13] 508 U.S. 520 (1993). 

[14] S. Bay United Pentecostal Church, 140 S. Ct. at 1614–15 (Kavanaugh, J., dissenting) (quoting Lukumi, 508 U.S. at 531–32).  

[15] Id. at 1615.  

[16] Id. at 1614. 

[17] 140 S. Ct. 2603 (2020). 

[18] Id. at 2604–05 (Alito, J., dissenting) (describing the facts of the case). 

[19] Id. at 2603 (opinion of the Court). 

[20] Id. at 2603 (Alito, J., dissenting); id. at 2609 (Gorsuch, J., dissenting). 

[21] Id. at 2609 (Gorsuch, J., dissenting). 

[22] Id. 

[23] Id. at 2603 (Alito, J., dissenting). 

[24] Id. at 2605–07 (Alito, J., dissenting).  

[25] Id. at 2605. 

[26] Id. 

[27] 141 S. Ct. 63, 65 (2020). 

[28] Jess Bravin, Supreme Court Blocks Covid-19 Restrictions on Religious Services in New York, Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/supreme-court-blocks-covid-19-restrictions-on-church-attendance-in-new-york-11606369004 (Nov. 26, 2020, 9:04 PM)

[29] Roman Catholic Diocese, 141 S. Ct. at 66 (per curiam opinion). 

[30] Id. at 66–67; id. 69–70 (Gorsuch, J., concurring); id. at 73 (Kavanaugh, J., concurring).  

[31] Id. at 66–67; id. 69–70 (Gorsuch, J., concurring); id. at 73 (Kavanaugh, J., concurring).  

[32] Id. at 76–78 (Breyer, J., dissenting). 

[33] Id. at 77. 

[34] Id. 

[35] Id. at 75 (Roberts, C.J., dissenting). 

[36] Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak, No. 20-16169, 2020 WL 7350247, at *1, *3–4 (9th Cir. Dec. 15, 2020). 

[37] Id. at *4.  

[38] Id. 

[39] Id. at *4–5. 

By Itané O. Coleman 

On November 21, 2006, Kathryn Johnston was ninety-two. Police entered her home. They shot her six times. Killing her.[1]

On May 16, 2010, Aiyana Jones was seven. Police entered her grandmother’s home. They shot the child while sleeping. Killing her.[2]

Though Black men are often the face of police violence for a number of reasons, Black women and girls are susceptible to violence as well. Black women are only 13 percent of the female population, but account for 28 percent of unarmed deaths in the U.S.[3] The rise of campaigns, such as #SayHerName and #BlackLivesMatter, have attempted to curtail ignorance surrounding violence against Black women and girls, but their stories remain on the fringes of justice and accountability.

Since 2015, about 250 women have been fatally shot by the police in their homes or place of residence.[4] At least forty-eight of those women were Black,[5] and Breonna Taylor was one of them. The fatal events leading to her death are a viable starting point for noting the implications of a contributor to the unarmed deaths of Black women: no-knock warrants.

On March 13, 2020, plain-clothed police officers executed a no-knock search warrant, to enter Taylor’s Louisville, Kentucky, apartment.[6] Though the actual location officers were looking for was more than ten miles away from Taylor’s home,[7] they were under the belief that her apartment was being used for drugs. Taylor and Kenneth Walker, her boyfriend, were asleep when they heard banging at the door.[8] Fearing that their home was being burglarized, Walker grabbed a legal firearm and fired one shot in self-defense, injuring an officer.[9] The officers’ response to Walker’s warning shot manifested in the form of twenty-two rounds, eight of which fatally wounded Taylor.[10] No drug evidence was found[11] and the suspect the officers were looking for was in police custody at the time Taylor’s home was raided.[12]

As a result of these events, the Louisville Metro Council voted 26-0 in favor of Breonna’s Law, an ordinance that bans the enforcement of no-knock warrants. Louisville Metro Police Detective Joshua Haynes was also placed on administrative leave for executing the warrant that led to Taylor’s death,[13] but no officers have been charged for this unarmed killing. Many states have proposed bans on no-knock warrants as an attempt of policing reform. One victim of a no-knock raid gone wrong stated, “This is about race. You don’t see SWAT teams going into a white-collar community, throwing grenades into their homes.”[14] The 2013 death of Alberta Spruill as a result of police breaking into her apartment and setting off grenades is one of countless examples of Black lives being treated as criminal and disposable.[15]

According to David Alan Sklansky, a Professor of Criminal Law at Stanford, no-knock warrants disproportionately impact Black people and other people of color.[16] This policing tactic is a racialized product of the War on Drugs.[17] During the 1960s and 70s, no-knock warrants were disproportionately enforced in Black communities, reaffirming the perception that Blackness was synonymous with criminality.[18] In fact, no-knock warrants became so problematic that Congress repealed the statute authorizing their use due to reports of mistaken violent, and often illegal raids.[19] Despite the problematic nature of no-knock warrants, Supreme Court cases in the 1990s and early 2000s paved the way for their reemergence.[20]

In deciding the parameters of no-knock warrants, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment incorporates a knock-and-announce requirement.[21] In Wilson v. Arkansas,[22] the Court held that knock and announce is a factor in a reasonableness test of the Fourth Amendment, but not a requirement.[23] The Court did not specify instances that would make unannounced entries reasonable.[24] Instead, it delegated the task of determining the reasonableness of unannounced entries to state courts,[25] opening the door for unpredictable enforcement of no-knock warrants. In Richards v. Wisconsin,[26] the Supreme Court expanded the likelihood of unannounced entries by “explicitly approv[ing] of states giving magistrates the authority to issue no-knock warrants.”[27] Richards became the national standard for upholding searches conducted with no-knock warrants[28] because the Court imposed a reasonable suspicion standard that would allow officers to utilize discretion in announcing their presence.[29] The Court’s reasonableness standard “amounted to reasonable suspicion, meaning that a relatively low quantum of evidence was necessary for an action.”[30]

Though most states have a knock-and-announce statute on the books, state and federal courts often interpret exceptions to these statutes, such as the destruction of evidence and danger to police officers.[31] As a result of widespread judicial discretion regarding these warrants, they are routinely issued and are easier to get than most people would think.[32] Coincided with the rate of gun ownership in this country, no-knock warrants tend to result in violent and fatal outcomes.[33] As a result, public recognition of no-knock warrants as an aggressive and intrusive practice has grown. [34] Part of the problem is that no-knock warrants are often executed at night and fail to ensure the safety of civilians and officers.[35]

The death of Breonna Taylor is one of many examples of unarmed Black women impacted by no-knock warrants. Racialized police tactics require an understanding of the ways in which Black and Brown lives are balanced against police discretion. More often than not, the loss of Black and Brown lives do not outweigh implicit bias in U.S. policing. Though the path to racial injustice is long, 2020 has seen a heightened demand for learning and change. Thus, the death of Breonna Taylor should encourage interrogation of no-knock warrants and equitable reform.[36]


[1] Regina Jennings, From Slavery to Contemporary Genocide: A Literary and Linguistic Analysis of Why American Blacks Deserve Reparations, 18 Race, Gender, and Class 73, 75 (2011).

[2] 7-Year-Old Girl Accidentally Shot By Swat Team, ACLU, https://www.aclu.org/other/7-year-old-girl-accidentally-shot-swat-team (last visited October 22, 2020).

[3] Marisa Iati et al., Nearly 250 Women Have Been Fatally Shot by Police Since 2015, Wash. Post, (Sept. 4, 2020), https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/investigations/police-shootings-women/.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Aliss Higham, Breonna Taylor: Who Was Breonna Taylor? What Happened to Her?, Express, (June 5, 2020), https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1291365/Breonna-Taylor-who-is-Breonna-Taylor-what-happened-black-lives-.

[7] Pilar Melendez, Louisville Cop Placed on Leave After Applying for Search Warrant in Breonna Taylor Case, Daily Beast, (June 10, 2020), https://www.thedailybeast.com/louisville-metro-police-detective-joshua-jaynes-placed-on-administrative-leave-in-breonna-taylor-case.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Higham, supra note 6.

[11] David A. Sklansky & Sharon Driscoll, Stanford’s David Sklansky on the Breonna Taylor Case, No-Knock Warrants, and Reform, Stan. L. Sch., (Sept. 28, 2020), https://law.stanford.edu/2020/09/28/stanfords-david-sklansky-on-the-breonna-taylor-case-no-knock-warrants-and-reform/.

[12] Melendez, supra note 7.

[13] Melendez, supra note 7.

[14] Brian Dolan, To Knock or Not to Knock? No-Knock Warrants and Confrontational Policing, 93 St. John’s L. Rev. 201, 226 (2019).

[15] Jennings, supra note 1, at 75.

[16] Sklansky & Driscoll, supra note 11.

[17] Dolan, supra note 14, at 211.

[18] Carl Suddler, The Color of Justice Without Prejudice: Youth, Race, and Crime in the Case of the Harlem Six, 57 Am. Stud. 57, 58 (2018).

[19] Dolan, supra note 14, at 211.

[20] Id. at 212.

[21] Adina Schwartz, Homes as Folding Umbrellas: Two Supreme Court Decisions on “Knock and Announce,25 Am. J. Crim. L. 545, 546 (1998).

[22] 514 U.S. 927 (1995).

[23] Schwartz, supra note 21, at 550.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] 520 U.S. 385 (1997).

[27] Dolan, supra note 14, at 213.

[28] Id.

[29] See Richards, 520 U.S. at 394.

[30] David M. Jones, What Does “Knock And Announce” Mean? An Analysis of Wilson v. Arkansas and Its Progeny, 26 Am. J. Crim. Just. 287, 293 (2002).

[31] Dolan, supra note 14, at 214.

[32] See id. at 223–24.

[33] Id. at 220.

[34] Id. at 207.

[35] Id. at 216.

[36] Several cities, such as San Antonio, Texas, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, have followed Louisville’s lead in banning no-knock warrants. Ray Sanchez, Laws Ending No-Knock Warrants After Breonna Taylor’s Death Are A ‘Big Deal’ But Not Enough, CNN, (October 10, 2020, 6:03 AM), https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/10/us/no-knock-warrant-bans-breonna-taylor/index.html. Though most states allow no-knock warrants, Breonna’s Law has inspired a ban on the national level. Chantal Da Silva, Where Are No-Knock Warrants Legal? Bipartisan Bill Seeks Ban After Breonna Taylor’s Death, Newsweek., (June 12, 2020, 10:30 AM), https://www.newsweek.com/where-are-no-knock-warrants-legal-bipartisan-bill-seeks-ban-after-breonna-taylors-death-1510478. After speaking with Taylor’s family concerning the tragedy, Senator Rand Paul introduced a bill called the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act, which if passed, would end no-knock raids in the United States. Id.

U.S. Army Spc. Valerie Arceneaux, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, poses for a series of feature photos during the Expert Soldier Badge Qualification at Fort Hood, Texas, August 19, 2020. (U.S. Army Illustration by Sgt. Calab Franklin)

By Ashley Willard

As it stands, the Military Selective Service Act (“MSSA”) only impacts males.[1] The MSSA gives the President authority to issue a proclamation requiring all male citizens and most male noncitizen residents between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six to register with the Selective Service.[2] The current registration period began when President Carter issued Presidential Proclamation 4771 in 1980.[3] The registration process facilitates conscription in the event that a national emergency necessitates a military draft.[4] Any man who knowingly fails to register may face criminal penalties of up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.[5] Other penalties include ineligibility for federal student aid or federal job training.[6]

Nearly forty years ago, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the MSSA in Rotsker v. Goldberg.[7] The Court emphasized then recent congressional findings in which Congress considered extending the MSSA to include women, but ultimately declined to do so.[8] In these findings, Congress highlighted two main facts—(1) the purpose of the draft is mass mobilization of combat troops, and (2) women were ineligible for combat roles at the time.[9] Therefore, the Court held that men and women were not similarly situated with regard to the draft because of the combat restrictions on women, and therefore there was no Fifth Amendment violation.[10]

However, in February 2019, a federal district court judge in Houston found that the male-only draft registration requirement was indeed unconstitutional on Fifth Amendment equal protection grounds.[11] The court reasoned that “Rotsker is factually distinguishable” because of the substantial changes in the facts underlying that decision.[12] Women’s opportunities in the military have greatly expanded since 1981.[13] In fact, the doors opened completely for women in 2015 when Defense Secretary Ash Carter rescinded the combat-exclusion policy that had previously kept women from serving in combat roles.[14] The district court highlighted that “women are now eligible for all military service roles, including combat positions.”[15] Applying intermediate scrutiny, the court held that the government did not meet its burden to show that the male-only registration requirement continues to be substantially related to the admittedly important governmental interest of raising and supporting armies.[16]

The government appealed, and in August 2020, the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that Rotsker controlled until the Supreme Court itself decided to reverse its precedent.[17] The court of appeals echoed the lower court’s assertion that “the factual underpinning of the controlling Supreme Court decision has changed,” but emphasized that appeals courts do not have “license to disregard or overrule that precedent.”[18] Yet, while the MSSA remains binding precedent, the winds of change have clearly started to blow.

In 2017, Congress tasked the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service to conduct a review of the military selective service process.[19] In their report, issued in March 2020, the Commission concluded that it was time to extend the registration requirement to women.[20] First, there are prudent reasons for including women in the draft—seven out of every ten young Americans would not meet the physical, moral, educational, and health standards required for service.[21] Department of Defense research indicates that women are equally likely to qualify for service as men, and excluding half the pool of eligible individuals would be “imprudent.”[22] Second, there are ethical and moral reasons for doing so—the “current disparate treatment of women unacceptably excludes women from a fundamental civic obligation and reinforces gender stereotypes about the role of women.”[23]

If Congress is persuaded by this recommendation and passes legislation amending the MSSA, there will be no need for the Supreme Court to revisit the issue.[24] There have been several failed legislative attempts to amend the MSSA and require women to register with the Selective Service.[25] The most promising attempt began with the Senate Armed Services Committee recommending that Congress amend the MSSA to require women to register; it ended instead with the creation of a commission to report on the issue, as discussed above.[26] A different report, published by the Congressional Research Service, proposed three routes that Congress could take to wade into the debate.[27] First, Congress could amend the MSSA to require women to register for the Selective Service.[28] Second, Congress could simply amend the MSSA to provide a new justification for why women should not be required to register, to preempt judicial review.[29] Third, Congress could repeal the MSSA altogether.[30] It is highly unlikely that Congress will pursue this final route.

If Congress takes no action, then resolution of this issue rests with the judicial system. As discussed above, the facts relied on by the Rotsker Court have changed substantially and the circumstances no longer seem to support the constitutionality of the MSSA. The Court has demonstrated a willingness in the past to overrule prior decisions based on subsequent factual developments.[31] Therefore, if the Court takes up the issue, it is likely that it will overturn Rotsker and declare a male-only draft unconstitutional.

Whether the issue is tackled in Congress or by the Court, we can expect a resolution in the not-so-distant future. Ladies, get ready. 


[1] 50 U.S.C. § 3802 (“[I]t shall be the duty of every male citizen of the United States, and every other male person residing in the United States, who . . . is between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, to present himself for and submit to registration) (emphasis added).

[2] Id. See also Jonathan M. Gaffney, Cong. Rsch. Serv., LSB10491, Expanding the Selective Service: Legal Issues Surrounding Women and the Draft 1 (2020), https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/LSB/LSB10491.

[3] Proclamation No. 4771, 3 C.F.R. § 82 (1981), reprinted in 50 U.S.C. § 3802 app. at 742 (2018).

[4] Nat’l Coal. for Men v. Selective Serv. Sys., 969 F.3d 546, 547 (5th Cir. 2020).

[5] 50 U.S.C. § 3811(a)–(b).

[6] Id. § 3811(f).

[7] 453 U.S. 57 (1981).

[8] Id. at 73.

[9] Id. at 77.

[10] Id. at 78–79. The MSSA, a federal law, implicates the Fifth Amendment rather than the Fourteenth because the Fifth Amendment applies to actions of the federal government. See Barron v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. 243 (1833).

[11] Nat’l Coal. for Men v. Selective Serv. Sys., 355 F. Supp. 3d 568 (S.D. Tex. 2019), rev’d, 969 F.3d 546 (5th Cir. 2020). Marc Angelucci, counsel for the National Coalition for Men, was killed earlier this year by fellow men’s rights activist Den Hollander, a former member of NCFM who had been ousted from the group in 2015 after making threats on NCFM’s president for passing him over as co-counsel in this case. Sonia Mohge & Paul P. Murphy, Friend of Slain California Attorney Says Suspect in Attack on Judge’s Family Had a Grudge Against Him, CNN (Jul. 22, 2020), https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/22/us/hollander-angelucci-judge-salas-shooting/index.html.

[12] Nat’l Coal. for Men, 355 F. Supp. 3d at 575.

[13] Id. at 576.

[14] Nat’l Comm’n on Mil., Nat., and Pub. Serv., Inspired to Serve: The Final Report 114 (2020), https://inspire2serve.gov/sites/default/files/final-report/Final%20Report.pdf [hereinafter Inspired to Serve]. See also Cheryl Pellerin, Carter Opens All Military Occupations, Positions to Women, DOD News (Dec. 3, 2015),  https://www.defense.gov/Explore/News/Article/Article/632536/carter-opens-all-military-occupations-positions-to-women/#:~:text=Defense%20Secretary%20Ash%20Carter%20announced,open%20to%20women%2C%20without%20exception.&text=%E2%80%9CThey’ll%20be%20allowed%20to,into%20combat%2C%22%20Carter%20added.

[15] Nat’l Coal. for Men, 355 F. Supp. 3d at 576.

[16] Id. at 581.

[17] Nat’l Coal. for Men v. Selective Serv. Sys., 969 F.3d 546, 547 (5th Cir. 2020).

[18] Id. at 549-50.

[19] Gaffney, supra note 2, at 3.

[20] Inspired to Serve, supra note 14, at 115.

[21] Id.

[22] Id. Actually, the reported statistics indicate that women are slightly more likely to qualify for service (29.3 percent) than their male counterparts (29 percent). Id.

[23] Id.

[24] While the National Coalition for Men has not yet petitioned the Supreme Court for review, its website indicates that it plans to, as it is currently “exploring its options, including filing a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court.” Nat’l Coalit. for Men, https://ncfm.org/ (last visited Oct. 6, 2020).

[25] Gaffney, supra note 2, at 3.

[26] See supra notes 19–23.

[27] Gaffney, supra note 2, at 4.

[28] Id.

[29] Id. The government offered two such justifications in National Coalition for Men: (1) the requirement of female conscription into combat roles might reduce female enlistment by increasing the perception that women would be forced to serve in combat roles; and (2) the administrative problems of drafting women, who are treated differently with regard to “dependency, hardship, and physical standards.” 969 F.3d 546, 579–80 (5th Cir. 2020). The court outright rejected the first as an “archaic and overbroad generalization” that women are more combat-averse than men, so that justification will unlikely be used to support future legislation. Id. at 579. While the court ultimately also rejected the second, they did so in part because of the standard of review. The court indicated that if Congress were to make a “studied choice” based on male and female rates of physical eligibility, the administrative justification might stand in the future. Id. at 581. However, as discussed in supra note 22, women are actually more likely to be physical eligible than men. Thus, while Congress might be able to find a satisfactory administrative justification, they probably will not be able to justify the continued exclusion of women based on rates of physical eligibility.

[30] Gaffney, supra note 2, at 4.

[31] Cong. Rsch Serv., R45319, The Supreme Court’s Overruling of Constitutional Precedent 17–18 (2018), https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/20180924_R45319_3cafb6dc6b134c9a1c83eff9bfb780a3b904bd3a.pdf.

 

By Samuel Gilleran

In a sweeping, 357-page ruling released yesterday afternoon, a three-judge panel of North Carolina Superior Court judges unanimously held that partisan gerrymandering violates multiple provisions of the North Carolina Constitution,[1] including the Equal Protection Clause,[2] the Free Elections Clause,[3] and the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly Clauses.[4]

The panel then proceeded to enjoin the use of the maps in the 2020 primary and general elections, ordered the General Assembly to enact new maps within two weeks, and forbade the use of “[p]artisan considerations and election results data.”[5] The panel further decreed that the General Assembly could not use the current map “as a starting point for drawing new districts, and no effort may be made to preserve the cores of invalidated 2017 districts.”[6] The panel forbade the use of outside consultants without Court approval and demanded that “the entire remedial process” must occur “in full public view. At a minimum, this requires all map drawing to occur at public hearings, with any relevant computer screen visible to legislators and public observers.”[7] Finally, the panel “retain[ed] jurisdiction” to adjust the dates of the 2020 primary elections in the event that such an adjustment was “necessary to provide effective relief in this case.”[8]

The panel noted that the allegations of partisan gerrymandering were essentially uncontested.[9] After all, in the related redrawing of the congressional district lines, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), a leader in the Republican redistricting effort, plainly stated his belief that a “political gerrymander [was] not against the law” in urging the adoption of a map that would “give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats.”[10] The real question at issue was whether such gerrymandering was both proscribed under the North Carolina Constitution and justiciable by the North Carolina courts. The panel answered both questions affirmatively.

Before the panel expounded its holdings under the state constitution, it first explained why the Supreme Court’s opinion in Rucho v. Common Cause[11] did not control. As the panel noted, the Supreme Court explicitly reserved the issue of partisan gerrymandering for state review. It quoted the high court’s assertion that its opinion in Rucho did “not condone excessive partisan gerrymandering” and did not “condemn complaints about districting to echo into a void.”[12] “Rather, the Supreme Court held, ‘[t]he States . . . are actively addressing the issue on a number of fronts,’ and ‘[p]rovisions in state statutes and state constitutions can provide standards and guidance for state courts to apply.’”[13] The panel held that such provisions were present in North Carolina’s constitution.

First, the panel examined the Free Elections Clause. It noted that this clause “is one of the clauses that makes the North Carolina Constitution more detailed and specific than the federal Constitution in the protection of the rights of its citizens.”[14] The panel traced the evolution of the Free Elections Clause throughout the history of North Carolina’s legal system and concluded that it provides a justiciable right to North Carolinians; it is not merely hortatory or aspirational language.[15] It specifically pointed to a 1971 revision of the state constitution in which the wording of the clause was changed from “all elections ought to be free” to “all elections shall be free.”[16] “This change was intended to ‘make [it] clear’ that the Free Elections Clause and the other rights secured to the people by the Declaration of Rights ‘are commands and not mere admonitions’ to proper conduct on the part of the government.”[17]

The panel went on to hold that “[t]he partisan gerrymandering of the 2017 Plans strikes at the heart of the Free Elections Clause. . . . Elections are not free when partisan actors have tainted future elections by specifically and systematically designing the contours of the election districts for partisan purposes and a desire to preserve power. In doing so, partisan actors ensure from the outset that it is nearly impossible for the will of the people—should that will be contrary to the will of the partisan actors drawing the maps—to be expressed through their votes for State legislators.”[18]

In holding that North Carolina’s Free Elections Clause proscribed partisan gerrymandering, the panel’s logic tracked that of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which in 2018 held that a similar clause in that state’s constitution forbade partisan gerrymandering.[19] In that case, the court overturned a Republican gerrymander of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts; in the ensuing election, Democrats flipped three seats and came within 11,239 votes in three more.[20] Were it not for Pennsylvania’s political geography, in which there are 260,000 excess Democratic votes in the 3rd Congressional District (Philadelphia), Democrats could have won even more seats.[21]

Second, the panel examined North Carolina’s Equal Protection Clause.[22] The panel noted that the state version of the clause has been interpreted more broadly than the federal courts have interpreted the federal clause.[23] And so the panel relied on previous state supreme court precedents to explicate that North Carolina’s Democratic voters were being treated unequally and that because the fundamental right to vote was implicated, strict scrutiny applied.[24]

Third, the panel turned to the Free Speech and Free Assembly claims. The panel held that “the 2017 Plans discriminate[d] against . . .  Democratic voters based on their protected expression and association” and that “[d]iscriminating against citizens based on their political beliefs does not serve any legitimate government interest.”[25] The panel also held that the 2017 plans were unconstitutional under a retaliation theory of the Free Speech and Free Assembly Clauses; because Democratic voters had past protected political activity (i.e., voting for Democratic candidates) and because Republican mapmakers had chosen Democrats for negative treatment based on their protected activity, a retaliation claim was successful.[26]

Finally, the panel had to decide whether the claims were justiciable. After all, the Supreme Court had essentially held just a few months prior that while partisan gerrymandering was bad behavior, it was powerless to stop it due to a lack of judicially manageable standards. The panel held that the question of partisan gerrymandering did not fall within the political question doctrine; it is justiciable.[27] The panel specifically noted that one of the main purposes of the judicial branch of government was to be a check on the legislature’s desire to aggrandize power to itself. Citing a case from 1787, dating all the way back to the founding of the Republic, the panel declared:

“If unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering is not checked and balanced by judicial oversight, legislators elected under one partisan gerrymander will enact new gerrymanders after each decennial census, entrenching themselves in power anew decade after decade. When the North Carolina Supreme Court first recognized the power to declare state statutes unconstitutional, it presciently noted that absent judicial review, members of the General Assembly could ‘render themselves the Legislators of the State for life, without any further election of the people.’ Those legislators could even ‘from thence transmit the dignity and authority of legislation down to their heirs male forever.’ Extreme partisan gerrymandering reflects just such an effort by a legislative majority to permanently entrench themselves in power in perpetuity.”[28]

Notably, the panel rejected the argument that because gerrymandering had a long history, it was therefore constitutional. Citing to the seminal voting rights case Reynolds v. Sims, the panel stated that “widespread historical practices does not immunize governmental action from constitutional scrutiny.”[29] Merely because a practice was longstanding – and even, as in this case, engaged in by one of the Plaintiffs (i.e., the North Carolina Democratic Party) during the many years when it was in power – does not somehow eliminate the rights reserved by North Carolinians under the state constitution. The panel also rejected the idea that it needed to find a bright-line rule for how much partisan gerrymandering was too much, the question that so plagued the Supreme Court in Rucho. Instead, the panel stated the obvious: “[t]his case is not close.”[30] In essence, the panel held that, wherever the line is, this set of facts is so far past that line that Plaintiffs’ entitlement to relief is indisputable.

The reaction to the panel’s decision was swift. Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg) tweeted that the ruling was “the single best news [he] ha[d] ever heard” during his time in the legislature,[31] while Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Orange) called the ruling “a big win for democracy and a game changer for 2020.”[32] But the biggest news came from Republican Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), who announced that Republicans would not appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Although castigating the panel’s decision, Sen. Berger stated that “[n]early a decade of relentless litigation has strained the legitimacy of this state’s institutions, and the relationship between its leaders, to the breaking point. It’s time to move on. To end this matter once and for all, we will follow the court’s instruction and move forward with adoption of a nonpartisan map.”[33] Election law scholar Rick Hasen suggested a few reasons why Republicans elected not to appeal, including the simple facts of sure loss in the North Carolina Supreme Court and the greater precedential value of the inevitable negative decision from that court.[34]

What are the practical ramifications of this decision? For the first time in a long time, Democrats truly believe they can win back majorities in each house of the legislature.[35] Republicans currently maintain a 65-55 margin in the state house, and given the sheer number of districts identified in the decision as unconstitutionally gerrymandered, Democrats have to feel good about the prospects of taking back at least that chamber. Democrats carried a majority of the two-party vote in 2018,[36] and it is historically likely that the electorate in 2020, a presidential year, will be younger and more racially diverse than in 2018, a midterm year.[37]

Judging from the simulations run by political scientists and adjusting for a 2020 political environment, Democrats have a strong chance at flipping House seats in Columbus County,[38] Cumberland County,[39] Franklin County,[40] Pitt County,[41] Guilford County,[42] Forsyth County (possibly two)[43], New Hanover County,[44] Onslow County,[45] Anson County,[46] and Alamance County.[47] If Democrats were able to flip even six of these eleven targets, it would give them a 61-59 majority in the state house, all other things being equal.

Similarly, on the Senate side, Republicans retain a 29-21 majority, so the Democrats would have to flip five seats. The panel’s ruling gives Democrats a reasonable chance at flipping seats in Mecklenburg County[48] and Wake County,[49] but in other gerrymandered districts that would be unwound by the ruling, such as in Guilford County and New Hanover County, Democrats managed to defeat the gerrymander in 2018. That said, unwinding the gerrymander makes the playing field different and, in a good year, could allow Democrats to take Senate seats that they ordinarily would not. In addition, when decennial redistricting occurs in 2021 after the 2020 census, it could be that a few seats will shift from rural to suburban and urban areas, thereby helping Democratic chances moving forward.


[1] Common Cause v. Lewis, No. 18-cv-14001, slip op. at 352–53 (N.C. Super. Ct. [Wake] Sep. 3, 2019), https://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/athena/files/2019/09/03/5d6ec7bee4b0cdfe0576ee09.pdf.

[2] N.C. Const. art. I, § 19.

[3] N.C. Const. art. I, § 10.

[4] N.C. Const. art. I, §§ 12, 14.

[5] Common Cause, slip op. at 353–55.

[6] Id. at 355.

[7] Id. at 356.

[8] Id. at 357.

[9] Id. at 23.

[10] Hearing Before the J. Comm. on Redistricting, Extra Sess. 48, 50 (N.C. Feb. 16, 2016) (statement of Rep. David Lewis, Co-Chair, J. Comm. on Redistricting), redistricting.lls.edu/files/NC%20Harris%2020160216%20Transcript.pdf.

[11] 139 S. Ct. 2484 (2019) (holding partisan gerrymandering non-justiciable under the federal Constitution).

[12] Common Cause, slip op. at 299 (quoting Rucho, 139 S. Ct. at 2507).

[13] Id. (emphasis added in Common Cause).

[14] Id.

[15] Id. at 303–04.

[16] Id. at 304 (emphasis added in Common Cause) (quoting N.C. Const.  art I, § 10) (comparing 1868 version to 1971 version).

[17] Id. (quoting N.C. State Bar v. DuMont, 304 N.C. 627, 635, 639, 286 S.E.2d 89, 94, 97 (1982)).

[18] Id. at 305.

[19] See League of Women Voters of Pa. v. Commonwealth, 178 A.3d 737, 804 (Pa. 2018).

[20] Pennsylvania Election Results, N.Y. Times (last updated Dec. 19, 2018, 5:12 PM), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/11/06/us/elections/results-pennsylvania-elections.html.

[21] Id.

[22] Common Cause, slip op. at 307.

[23] Id. at 308–09.

[24] Id. at 315–16.

[25] Id. at 328.

[26] Id. at 329–31.

[27] Id. at 334.

[28] Id. at 333 (quoting Bayard v. Singleton, 1 N.C. 5, 7 (1787)).

[29] Id. (citing Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 582 (1964) (invalidating Alabama’s malapportioned legislative districts despite a history of malapportionment that dated back to the founding). North Carolina itself engaged in such malapportionment, which has been documented as early as 1792. See Thomas Rogers Hunter, The First Gerrymander?: Patrick Henry, James Madison, James Monroe, and Virginia’s 1788 Congressional Districting, 9 Early Am. Stud. 781, 819 (2011) (discussing a 1792 map that “severely overpopulated” congressional districts in the northeast corner of the state).

[30] Common Cause, slip op. at 341.

[31] Jeff Jackson (@JeffJacksonNC), Twitter (Sep. 3, 2019, 4:40 PM), https://twitter.com/JeffJacksonNC/status/1168987115637682176.

[32] Graig Meyer (@GraigMeyer), Twitter (Sep. 3, 2019, 4:44 PM), https://twitter.com/GraigMeyer/status/1168988126200705026.

[33] Nick Ochsner (@NickOchsnerWBTV), Twitter (Sep. 3, 2019, 5:27 PM), https://twitter.com/NickOchsnerWBTV/status/1168998919885508608.

[34] See Rick Hasen, North Carolina Republicans Won’t Appeal Gerrymandering Ruling, Promise “Nonpartisan” Map. What’s the End Game?, Election L. Blog (Sep. 3, 2019, 3:13 PM), https://electionlawblog.org/?p=107179.

[35] See Jeff Jackson (@JeffJacksonNC), Twitter (Sep. 3, 2019, 7:03 PM), https://twitter.com/JeffJacksonNC/status/1169023123938824194 (“With fair maps, we have a genuine shot at electing a state legislature that actually reflects the political will of our state.”).

[36] Common Cause, slip op. at 233.

[37] See, e.g., Matthew Yglesias, The 2018 Electorate Was Older, Whiter, and Better Educated Than in 2016, Vox (Nov. 12, 2018, 10:00 AM), https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/11/12/18083014/2018-election-results-turnout

[38] Common Cause, slip op. at 153.

[39] Id. at 157–58.

[40] Id. at 161–64.

[41] Id. at 164–69.

[42] Id. at 170–75.

[43] Id. at 181–85.

[44] Id. at 194–99.

[45] Id. at 199–203.

[46] Id. at 203–08.

[47] Id. at 209–15.

[48] Id. at 109–17.

[49] Id. at 117–23.

By Jason Wiener

Karen J. Williams was born in Orangeburg, South Carolina on August 4, 1951.[1] After receiving her B.A. from Columbia College in 1972, she taught social studies and English in local public schools.[2] She returned to school as a law student and received her J.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1980, graduating at the top of her class.[3] Before taking the bench, Judge Williams practiced in Orangeburg at Williams & Williams, where she worked alongside her husband Charles H. Williams and her father-in-law Senator Marshall B. Williams.[4]

On January 27, 1992, Karen Williams was nominated by President George H. W. Bush to serve on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.[5]Upon confirmation, she became the first female to sit on that Court’s bench.[6]She made history again in 2007 when she served as the first female Chief Judge, a position she held until her resignation in 2009.[7]

Judge Williams took an active role on the bench and fearlessly addressed controversial appellate cases, which ultimately helped clarify the parameters of our Mirandarights. In 1966, the Supreme Court attempted to safeguard Fifth Amendment rights in the famous Mirandadecision.[8] In 1968, Congress passed 18 U.S.C. § 3501, an act that sought to expand the admissibility of voluntary confessions during federal prosecutions.[9] Although the Department of Justice had been reluctant to enforce that law, Judge Williams had to contend with the constitutionality of § 3501 in United States v. Dickerson.[10]

After Charles Dickerson voluntarily confessed to robbing several banks, he later sought to suppress the confession due to a technical violation of Miranda.[11] Reasoning that Congress had the authority to pass § 3501 pursuant to its authority to establish rules of procedure and evidence for the federal courts, and that the act allowed confessions to be admissible in evidence if they are voluntarily given, Judge Williams reversed the district court’s suppression of the evidence.[12] However, the Supreme Court reversed in Dickerson v. United States and held that Miranda was a constitutional decision that cannot be effectively overruled by Congress.[13] Although the New York Times chided Judge Williams’ opinion, her deference to the legislature on this issue was understandable given the unclear complexities of Miranda.[14]

Fourth Circuit Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III noted that Judge Williams “brought warmth, refinement, dignity, and grace to the judicial process, which can sometimes be perceived as hard and cold.”[15]After she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Judge Williams retired in 2009.[16]On November 2, 2013, the Honorable Karen J. Williams died at her home in Orangeburg at the age of 62.[17]She was survived by her husband and four children.[18]She is remembered daily at the University of South Carolina Law School, where a courtroom bearing her name honors her legacy. 


[1]Williams, Karen J., Fed. Jud. Ctr., https://www.fjc.gov/history/judges/williams-karen-j (last visited Apr. 15, 2019).

[2] Court Mourns the Passing of Former Chief Judge Karen J. Williams, U.S. Ct. of Appeals for the Fourth Cir. (Nov. 5, 2013),  http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/news-announcements/2013/11/05/court-mourns-the-passing-of-former-chief-judge-karen-j.-williams.

[3]Id.

[4]Hon. Karen J. Williams 1951 – 2013Obituary, Dukes-Harley Funeral Home and Crematory, https://www.dukesharleyfuneralhome.com/obituary/2312344(last visited Apr. 15, 2019). 

[5]Id.

[6]Id.

[7]Id.

[8]Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). 

[9]18 U.S.C.A. § 3501.

[10]United States v. Dickerson, 166 F.3d 667, 671 (4th Cir. 1999).

[11]Id.

[12]Id.at 672. 

[13]Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, 431 (2000).

[14]For the NYT’s take on Judge Williams and the Dickerson decision, see Deborah Sontag, The Power of the Fourth N.Y. Times (Mar. 9, 2003), https://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/09/magazine/the-power-of-the-fourth.html.

[15]Court Mourns the Passing of Former Chief Judge Karen J. Williamssupranote 2. 

[16]Id.

[17]Id.

[18]Hon. Karen J. Williamssupranote 4.

By Cole Tipton

SummitBridge National v. Faison

In this bankruptcy action, SummitBridge National (“National”) appeals the district court’s holding that it is barred from claiming attorney’s fees incurred after a bankruptcy petition was filed.  The contract between National and Ollie Faison (“Faison”) stated that Faison would pay “all costs of collection, including but not limited to reasonable attorneys’ fees.”  The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s holding and stated that the Bankruptcy Code does not preclude contractual claims to attorney’s fees that were guaranteed by a pre-bankruptcy contract.  The determination of the district court was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

US v. Pratt

In this criminal action, Samual Pratt (“Pratt”) appeals his conviction of various counts of sex trafficking and child pornography due to evidentiary errors.  Pratt contends the district court should have suppressed evidence from his cellphone and should not have admitted certain hearsay statements.  First, the Fourth Circuit held that it was reversible error to admit evidence from Pratt’s cellphone because the phone was seized without consent and the government waited thirty-one days before obtaining a search warrant.  The Court stated that such a delay was unreasonable.  Second, the Fourth Circuit held that an unavailable witness’s hearsay statements were admissible because Pratt had procured the witness’s unavailability through phone calls and threats.  Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit vacated Pratt’s convictions on the two counts prejudiced by the cell phone evidence, vacated his sentence, and remanded.

Parker v. Reema Consulting Services, Inc 

In this civil action, Evangeline Parker (“Parker”) appeals the district court’s dismissal of her complaint against her employer, Reema Consulting Services, Inc. (“Reema”).  The central issue of the appeal was whether a false rumor circulated by Reema that Parker slept with her boss for a raise could give rise to liability under Title VII for discrimination “because of sex.”  The Fourth Circuit held that because the complaint alleged Reema spread the rumor and acted on it by penalizing the employee, a cognizable claim for discrimination “because of sex” was alleged.  The district court’s dismissal was reversed.

US Dep’t of Labor v. Fire & Safety Investigation

In this civil action, Fire & Safety Investigation Consulting Services, LLC (“Fire & Safety”) appealed the district court’s determination that they violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for failing to pay overtime compensation.  Fire & Safety uses an alternative work schedule for its employees in which an employee works 12 hours per day for 14 days and then receives 14 days off.  Because employees under this plan will work 88 hours in one work week, Fire & Safety pays its employees a blended rate for all 88 hours that is supposed to account for the 48 hours of overtime worked, rather than paying 40 hours of standard pay plus 48 hours of overtime.  The Fourth Circuit held that this blended rate fails to observe the formalities required by the FLSA which requires all overtime hours be recorded and paid at one and one-half times the standard rate of pay for all hours worked over 40.  Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment, including over $1.5 million in back wages and liquidated damages.

Trana Discovery, Inc. v. S. Research Inst.

In this civil action, Trana Discovery, Inc. (“Trana”) brought a fraud and negligent misrepresentation action against Southern Research Institute (“Southern”).  Trana alleged that Southern had provided false data in research reports of a new HIV medication it was researching.  The district court granted summary judgment for Southern on both claims.  The Fourth Circuit upheld the grant of summary judgement, stating that there was no genuine dispute of material fact due to an insufficiency of evidence regarding damages and the standard of care Southern was exacted to.  Accordingly, summary judgement was affirmed.

Jesus Christ is the Answer v. Baltimore County, Maryland

In this civil action, Jesus Christ is the Answer Church (“Church”) brought an action alleging violation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act.  Church alleged that Baltimore County, Maryland (“Baltimore”) had infringed upon their State and Federal rights by denying their modified petition for zoning variances to establish a church.  Several neighbors, who had expressed open hostility towards Church, opposed the petition.  After the petition was denied, Church filed an action in district court which was dismissed for failure to state a claim.  On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded because Church’s complaint contained facts sufficient to state a claim that was “plausible on its face.”  The Fourth Circuit held that the neighbors apparent religious bias towards Church was sufficient to plead a plausible Constitutional claim and violation of the Religious Land Use Act. 

Curtis v. Propel Property Tax Funding

In this civil action, Garry Curtis (“Curtis”) brought a suit on behalf of himself and similarly situated individuals against Propel Property Tax Funding (“Propel”), alleging violations of the Truth in Lending Act, the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, and the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.  Propel was engaged in the practice of lending to third parties to finance payment of local taxes.  The district court denied Propel’s motion to dismiss and certified two interlocutory questions.  Propel appealed, asserting that Curtis did not have standing and that he failed to state a claim for relief.  The Fourth Circuit upheld the district court’s ruling, finding that: 1) Curtis had standing because he was personally subject to the harms these consumer protection statutes were designed to protect against; and 2) Curtis had sufficiently pled violations of the lending acts because Propel was conducting consumer credit transactions.

US v. Charboneau

In this civil action, Blake Charboneau (“Charboneau”) challenges the determination that he is a “sexually dangerous person” under the civil commitment provisions of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.  The district court held that Charboneau was a “sexually dangerous person” within the meaning of the act and committed him to the custody of the Attorney General.  On appeal, Charboneau raised two issues: 1) whether he must be diagnosed with a paraphilic disorder to be committed under the act; and 2) if the record supported the district court’s findings.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment, holding that an actual diagnosis was not necessary under the act and the record was sufficient under a clear error standard of review.

US v. Johnson

In this criminal action, Willie Johnson (“Johnson”) appealed a district court’s order to resentence him for bank robbery under the sentencing recommendation in his original plea agreement.  Johnson argued that the government’s original agreement not to seek a mandatory life sentence under the federal three-strikes law was not beneficial because his prior state crimes should not be counted for federal three-strikes treatment.  The Fourth Circuit held that state crimes are encompassed by the three-strikes program and the district court’s decision to honor the original sentencing recommendation was affirmed.

Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC v. 6.56 Acres of Land

In this civil action, owners of 6.56 acres of land appealed a district court judgement granted Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (“Pipeline”) a preliminary injunction for access and possession of property it was acquiring through eminent domain.  The Fourth Circuit reviewed the district court’s application of the test set forth in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008) for preliminary injunctions.  In doing so, the Court found that Pipeline had established it was likely to succeed on the merits, would suffer irreparable harm, the balance of equities was in its favor, and that an injunction served the public interest.  Accordingly, the district court was affirmed.

Booking.com B.V. v. US Patent & Trademark

In this civil action, Booking.com and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) appeal the district court’s grant of summary judgment protecting the trademark BOOKING.COM.  Booking.com appeals the district court’s grant of attorney’s fees to the USPTO, and the USPTO appeals the court’s decision that BOOKING.COM is protectable.  The Fourth Circuit held that BOOKING.COM is not generic and can be registered as a descriptive mark with secondary meaning.  Moreover, the Court upheld the grant of USPTO’s expenses because the Lanham Act requires a party to pay “all the expenses of the proceeding” when a USPTO decision is appealed to the district court.  Thus, the district court’s judgment was affirmed.

US v. Jones

In this criminal action, James Eric Jones (“Jones”) appeals the district court’s denial of a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence.  Jones was originally sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) which requires a mandatory fifteen-year minimum sentence for defendants with at least three prior violent felony convictions.  However, Jones claims that he does not qualify for sentencing under the act because his South Carolina conviction for assaulting, beating, or wounding a police officer is not a violent conviction as defined by the ACCA.  The Fourth Circuit held that assaulting, beating, or wounding a police officer does not qualify under the ACCA because it includes conduct that does not involve violent physical force. Therefore, the district court’s judgment was vacated and remanded.

By Kayla West and Jim Twiddy

Mark Lawlor v. David Zook

In this criminal case, the Appellant sought a review of his death sentence. A Virginia state court sentenced the Appellant to death after his conviction for capital murder. During his sentencing, the sentencing jury found that the Appellant would likely continue to commit criminal acts of violence, making him a continuous threat to society. The state court had excluded relevant testimony of a qualified witness who would have explained that the Appellant represented a low risk for committing acts of violence while incarcerated. The Appellant filed the instant federal petition for review of his death sentence which was dismissed by the district court. The Fourth Circuit granted certificate of appealability on three issues, including whether it was a constitutional error for the trial court to exclude expert testimony about the Appellant’s risk of future violence in prison. The Fourth Circuit concluded that the state court’s exclusion of the expert testimony was an unreasonable application of the established federal law because the evidence was potentially mitigating, and such evidence may not be excluded from the sentencer’s consideration. The Fourth Circuit relied on the Supreme Court’s long recognized principle that a capital sentencing body must be permitted to consider any admissible and relevant mitigating information in determining whether to assign the defendant a sentence less than death. Thus, the district court’s decision was reversed and remanded.

 

Sierra Club v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

In this civil case, petitioners asked for the Court to set aside respondent’s verification and reinstated verification that construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline can proceed under the terms and conditions of Clean Water Act Nationwide Permit 12 (“NWP 12”), rather than an individual permit. The 42-inch diameter natural gas Pipeline proposes to run 304 miles through parts of Virginia and West Virginia, crossing several federal water bodies. Because the construction of the Pipeline will involve the discharge of fill material into federal waters, the Clean Water Act requires that Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC (certified to construct and operate the Pipeline) obtain clearance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ before beginning construction. Mountain Valley elected to pursue the general permit approach to obtain Corps clearance under NWP 12 which requires that all terms and conditions are satisfied before valid authorization occurs. Additionally, Mountain Valley must provide the Corps with a certification from the state in which the discharge originates. Under NWP 12, West Virginia’s certification imposes additional “special conditions” which the Corps must make regional conditions. However, the Corps decided to substitute its Special Condition 6 “in lieu of” NWP 12’s Special Condition C (imposed by West Virginia). The Fourth Circuit held that the Corps lacked the statutory authority to substitute its own special conditions “in lieu of” West Virginia’s special conditions. Further, the State Department for West Virginia waived Special Condition A, imposed as part of its certification of NWP 12. However, the Fourth Circuit held that a state cannot waive a special condition previously imposed as part of a nationwide permit absent completion of the notice-and-comment procedures required by the Clean Water Act under Section 1341(a)(1). Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit vacated, in their entirety, the verification and reinstated verification authorizing the Pipeline’s compliance with NWP 12.

 

US v. Terry

In this criminal case, Terry appealed his conviction of possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute. The key issue in this appeal was whether the district court erred in denying Terry’s motion to suppress evidence seized during a traffic stop. The stop was conducted through the illegal use of a GPS search. The district court asserted that because Terry relinquished control over the car, he lacked standing to challenge the GPS search. The Fourth Circuit concluded that the government agents committed a flagrant constitutional violation when they secretly placed a GPS on Terry’s car without a warrant, and that the discovery of the evidence seized during the traffic stop was not sufficiently attenuated from the unlawful GPS search to purge the effect of the unlawful search because the GPS and discovery of evidence were so closely tied. Additionally, the Fourth Circuit concluded that Terry did not lose his standing to assert a constitutional violation because when the tracker was placed, he was legitimately in possession of the vehicle. The Fourth Circuit reversed the holding of the district court, and vacated Terry’s conviction.

 

US v. Brown

In this criminal case, Brown asserted that a district court erred in calculating his criminal history category because the court added two points to Brown’s criminal history score based on a prior Virginia state conviction for which Brown received a suspended sentence. Brown’s suspended sentence was conditioned on a period of good behavior for ten years upon release from the prior Virginia State conviction. He was released in July of 2009, meaning that at the time of the present case, Brown had not completed his period of ten years good behavior. The district court concluded that a period of good behavior constitutes a criminal justice sentence, making it relevant to a defendant’s criminal history score. Brown asserted that a period of good behavior is not a criminal justice sentence because it lacks a custodial or supervisory component. The Fourth Circuit concluded that during a period of good behavior, Brown was still subject to the authority of the state. This operated as a supervisory component significant enough to constitute a criminal justice sentence. Because Brown committed the present offense while under a criminal justice sentence, the additional two points to his criminal history score were correctly added. The Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Fourth Circuit Weighs in on Constitutional Challenges to Airport Metro Service Project

By Agustin Martinez and Ashley Oldfield

Facts

In Kerpen v. Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority,[1] the Fourth Circuit addressed numerous constitutional and statutory challenges to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s (“MWAA”) use of toll revenues to build and fund a metro service project. Beginning in 1962, Dulles Airport and an access road linking Dulles to the Washington, DC, area operated under the management of the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”).[2] However, when the need for capital improvements at Dulles and its sister airport, National, became apparent in the early 1980s, the government sought to transfer operation of both airports to an authority with the ability to raise the necessary funds.[3] Subsequently, Virginia and the District of Columbia passed legislation “to create an interstate compact for the management of Dulles and National” which resulted in MWAA.[4] The legislation granted MWAA the authority to acquire the airports and “to operate, maintain, and improve” them.[5] The following year, the Transfer Act (“Act”) authorized the lease of the airports (“Lease”) to MWAA and “the transfer of the airports’ ‘access highways and other related facilities.’”[6] The Act required MWAA to only use the property for “airport purposes” and to “assume responsibility” for the federal government’s Master Plan for the airports, which “contemplated” eventual metro service to Dulles.[7] To facilitate the metro service project, Virginia transferred operation of a toll road to MWAA, and MWAA agreed to use the resulting revenues to finance the metro service’s construction.[8]

Procedural History

Plaintiffs, users of the toll road, brought a putative class action suit challenging MWAA on various constitutional and statutory grounds.[9] They asserted that “MWAA is a federal instrumentality” and that it “violated Article I, Article II, and the Guarantee Clause of the Constitution”; the Administrative Procedures Act (APA); and “the terms of the Transfer Act and the Lease.”[10] In response, MWAA, the District of Columbia, the Secretary of Transportation, and the U.S. Department Of Transportation (collectively, “Defendants”) filed Motions to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim.[11] The district court granted the Motions and dismissed all of Plaintiffs’ claims.[12] Upon appeal, the Fourth Circuit considered whether MWAA was subject to limitations under the Constitution and APA and whether its collection and use of tolls violated the terms of the Transfer Act and Lease.

Plaintiffs’ Arguments

On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that MWAA is a federal instrumentality under the four-factor Lebron standard.[13] First, Plaintiffs asserted that MWAA was created in pursuit of federal policy goals because “the Federal Government has a strong and continuing interest in the efficient operation of [MWAA’s] airports.”[14] Second, they argued that the federal government initiated MWAA’s creation because the Secretary of Transportation appointed the commission that recommended MWAA and Congress conditioned the airports’ transfer on meeting several requirements.[15] Third, Plaintiffs observed that three of MWAA’s directors are federally appointed and suggested that the remaining directors were also “beholden to federal interests . . . .”[16] Finally, they asserted that MWAA is subject to significant congressional oversight because Congress has established several “oversight mechanisms” for MWAA, including its previous Board of Review and current Board of Directors, and has subjected MWAA to oversight by the Department of Transportation.[17]

Plaintiffs further argued that, even if MWAA is not a federal instrumentality, the federal, government, and legislative powers delegated to it violate the nondelegation principle.[18] Plaintiffs listed a “vast panoply” of federal powers granted to MWAA by Congress and the FAA[19] and compared the present case to previous litigation involving MWAA in which the court held that “MWAA’s prior Board of Review was exercising federal power . . . .”[20] Plaintiffs also asserted that MWAA’s clear exercise of governmental power violated the Guarantee Clause because MWAA acts independently and without political accountability.[21] Additionally, Plaintiffs argued that MWAA exercised various legislative powers and particularly noted that its collection of tolls is an improper exercise of the legislative power to tax.[22]

Finally, Plaintiffs argued that the Transfer Act prohibited MWAA’s financing and construction of the Silver Line, a metro line connecting Dulles to Washington, DC, because the Act requires that airport revenues only be spent on the “capital and operating costs of the . . . Airports.”[23] Plaintiffs asserted that construction of the Silver Line could not be a capital cost of the airport because the Silver Line is largely “for the use of non-airport customers, on non-airport property” and will be turned over to its operator, the Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Administration (“WMATA”), upon completion.[24] Plaintiffs noted that a proper construction of the statute “required MWAA to leave space for a potential Metro line,” but prohibited MWAA from building the line itself.[25]

Defendants’ Arguments

Meanwhile, Defendants argued that operating commercial airports is not a core federal power reserved to the federal government by the Constitution.[26] They noted that, other than Dulles and National, the federal government has neither owned nor operated other commercial airports.[27] They asserted, therefore, that the Transfer Act did not violate separation of power principles, including the nondelegation doctrine, because the Act did not entail the delegation of a reserved core federal power.[28] Defendants also argued that, even if the Transfer Act did implicate a core federal power, the Act still satisfied the “intelligible principle” that is required when the federal government delegates a core power.[29] Defendants asserted that the Act’s strict statutory requirements for the Lease with MWAA sufficiently satisfied this broad “intelligible principle.”[30]

Next, Defendants argued that MWAA is not a federal instrumentality.[31] They emphasized that no court has previously held that an interstate compact, like MWAA, is a federal instrumentality that is subject to the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.[32] Defendants further asserted that MWAA was not created by the federal government; that the Transfer Act’s purpose was to transfer the operation and funding of Dulles and National to Virginia and the District of Columbia; and that the federal government did not control MWAA’s day-to-day operations or its governance and management decisions.[33] Defendants maintained, therefore, that the federal government neither created nor controlled MWAA, and thus it is not a federal instrumentality under the Lebron framework.[34]

In addition, Defendants argued that the Transfer Act did not violate the Guarantee Clause of the Constitution because the Act did “not remotely threaten Virginia’s republican form of government.”[35] Specifically, Defendants noted that Virginia and the District of Columbia established MWAA by virtue of statutes that were enacted by their respective legislative bodies and that MWAA’s appointed Board members are accountable to elected officials.[36] They also asserted that the Transfer Act limits MWAA’s authority to operating, maintaining, and improving Dulles and National, thus preventing the Act from running afoul of the Guarantee Clause.[37]

Finally, Defendants asserted that MWAA’s financing and construction of the Silver Line is permitted under the Transfer Act.[38] Defendants first argued that, as matter of law and statutory interpretation, Plaintiffs were barred from bringing an action to enforce the Transfer Act against MWAA.[39] Defendants then asserted that MWAA’s use of toll revenues for the Silver Line project was “reasonably related to improving passenger and cargo access to Dulles,” and thus was consistent with the Transfer Act’s legislative intent.[40]

The Fourth Circuit’s Analysis and Holding

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims. As an initial matter, the Court rejected Plaintiffs’ arguments that MWAA is a federal instrumentality.[41] Under Lebron, an entity is a federal instrumentality when it is (1) created and (2) controlled by the federal government.[42] The Court held that MWAA did not meet this definition.[43] First, the Court noted that the Transfer Act did not create MWAA because Virginia and the District of Columbia, with congressional pre-approval, had created MWAA through their own statutes.[44] The Transfer Act “simply specified the minimum powers MWAA must have in order to lease Dulles and National,” while also recognizing that Virginia and the District of Columbia were the sources of those powers.[45] Second, the Court explained that MWAA is not controlled by the federal government, as evidenced by the fact that only three of MWAA’s seventeen Board members are appointed by the federal government.[46] Although these three Board members have some influence on MWAA’s decisions, they alone cannot control MWAA.[47]

Moreover, the Court declined to adopt Plaintiffs’ instrumentality arguments because doing so would implicate other constitutionally permissible arrangements, including federal contractor agreements and interstate compacts like the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.[48] Thus, the Court held that Plaintiffs’ Appointments Clause and APA challenges failed because MWAA is not a federal instrumentality.[49] As the Court noted, the Appointments Clause and APA only apply to federal entities.[50]

The Court also rejected Plaintiffs’ claim that MWAA had been unconstitutionally delegated legislative power, government power, or federal power. “The principle of non-delegation requires that ‘core governmental power must be exercised by the Department on which it is conferred and must not be delegated to others in a manner that frustrates the constitutional design.’”[51] The Court held that MWAA’s structure did not violate the nondelegation doctrine.[52] First, the Court explained that MWAA only exercised those powers that originated from the Virginia and District of Columbia statutes; however, the plain text of those statutes did not transfer any legislative power from the federal government to MWAA.[53] Further, the Transfer Act recognized that those statutes had conferred non-legislative powers on MWAA.[54] The Court also indicated that, even if MWAA derived some of its power from the federal government, “[t]he strictures of the Transfer Act are sufficiently detailed as to more than satisfy the requirement of an ‘intelligible principle.’”[55]

Second, the Court noted that the Supreme Court has made it clear that it is unconstitutional for the government to delegate core government power to a private entity.[56] Therefore, the Court reasoned that there was “no unlawful delegation of ‘government power’ to a private entity in this case for the simple reason that MWAA is not a private entity”[57] Rather, MWAA is an interstate compact that is subject to the authority of elected officials.[58] Third, the Court adopted Defendants’ argument that operating a commercial airport is not an inherent federal power, and thus it rejected Plaintiffs’ claim that MWAA had been delegated a federal power.[59]

The Court then addressed Plaintiffs’ contention that MWAA’s establishment violated the Guarantee Clause. The Guarantee Clause states that the U.S. “shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”[60] The Court concluded that there was no violation of the Guarantee Clause because “MWAA does not deny any state a republican form of government.”[61] Specifically, Virginia and the District of Columbia retained their republican governments, and MWAA is accountable to elected officials.[62] Finally, the Court analyzed whether MWAA’s collection and use of tolls violated the terms of the Transfer Act and Lease. Consistent with case law from its sister circuits, the Court gave significant deference to the Secretary of Transportation’s previous determination that MWAA’s construction of the Silver Line and use of toll revenues to finance the project was permissible under the Act and Lease.[63] The Court also indicated that the Secretary was entitled to such deference because, under the Transfer Act, it is the Secretary who is authorized to determine the scope of an “airport purpose.”[64] Therefore, the Court adopted the Secretary’s determination, noting that the Transfer Act and Lease had required MWAA to adopt the Master Plan for Dulles and National, which had envisioned extending metro service to Dulles.[65] Moreover, the Act and Lease recognized that MWAA could exercise eminent domain powers, indicating that the federal government “must have imagined that MWAA would make improvements to land that is not owned or controlled by [MWAA].”[66] In sum, the Court rejected all of Plaintiffs’ claims.

Conclusion

Plaintiffs raised several constitutional and statutory claims to challenge MWAA’s collection and use of toll revenues for the Silver Line project. However, none of those claims persuaded the Fourth Circuit to decide the case in Plaintiffs’ favor. As to the constitutional claims, the Court declined to subject MWAA to the constraints of Article I, Article II, and the Guarantee Clause of the Constitution. Further, the Court gave significant deference to the Secretary of Transportation’s interpretation of the Transfer Act and Lease, which weighed in favor of Defendants. The Court’s decision was guided by its own precedent, as well as precedent from the Supreme Court and sister circuits. Notably, the Court also made it clear that its decision was influenced by the prospect of “throw[ing] longstanding airport expansion arrangements into turmoil.”[67]

  1. No. 17-1735, 2018 WL 5117169 (4th Cir. Oct. 22, 2018).
  2. Id. at *1.
  3. Id.
  4. Id.
  5. Id.
  6. Id. (citations omitted).
  7. Id. at *1–2 (citations omitted).
  8. Id. at *2.
  9. Id.
  10. Id.
  11. Kerpen v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., 260 F. Supp. 3d 567, 570 (E.D. Va. 2017).
  12. Id. at 571.
  13. Opening Brief of Plaintiff-Appellants (Corrected) at 31, 33, Kerpen v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., No. 17-1735, 2018 WL 5117169 (4th Cir. Oct. 22, 2018) (citing Lebron v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., 513 U.S. 374, 397–400 (1995)).
  14. Id. at 26, 33 (quoting MWAA v. Citizens for the Abatement of Aircraft Noise, Inc., 501 U.S. 252, 266 (1991)).
  15. Id. at 22–23, 35.
  16. Id. at 37–38.
  17. Id. at 38–39.
  18. Kerpen, 2018 WL 5117169, at *4.
  19. Opening Brief of Plaintiff-Appellants (Corrected), supra note 13, at 19–22.
  20. Id. at 22.
  21. Id. at 42–45.
  22. Id. at 50–53.
  23. Id. at 56.
  24. Id. at 56.
  25. Id. at 63–64.
  26. Brief for the Federal Appellees at 17, Kerpen v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., No. 17-1735, 2018 WL 5117169 (4th Cir. Oct. 22, 2018).
  27. Id. at 18.
  28. Id. at 21.
  29. Id.
  30. Id. at 23–24.
  31. Id. at 24–25.
  32. Id. at 25.
  33. Id. at 26–31.
  34. Id. at 31.
  35. Id. at 34.
  36. Id. at 32–33.
  37. Id. at 33.
  38. Id. at 34.
  39. Id. at 35–37.
  40. Id. at 39–43.
  41. Kerpen, 2018 WL 5117169, at *2.
  42. Id.
  43. Id. at *3.
  44. Id.
  45. Id.
  46. Id.
  47. Id.
  48. Id. at *3–4.
  49. Id. at *4.
  50. Id. at *4.
  51. Id. at *4 (quoting Pittston v. United States, 368 F.3d 385, 394 (4th Cir. 2004)).
  52. Id.
  53. Id.
  54. Id.
  55. Id.
  56. Id. at *5.
  57. Id. at *5.
  58. Id.
  59. Id.
  60. Id. at *6 (quoting U.S. Const. art. IV, § 4).
  61. Id.
  62. Id.
  63. Id. at *7.
  64. Id.
  65. Id.
  66. Id.
  67. Id. at *8.

By: Jason Wiener

Francis Dominic Murnaghan, Jr. was born in Baltimore, Maryland on June 20, 1920.[1]  After he received an undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1941, he served his country during World War II as a U.S. Naval Reserve Lieutenant from 1942 to 1946.[2]  Upon graduating from Harvard Law School in 1948, he went into private practice in Pennsylvania until 1950 and then served as a staff attorney for the U.S. Department of State’s High Commission on Germany from 1950 to 1952.[3]  Before taking the bench, Judge Murnaghan was a partner at Venable, Baetjer and Howard and served as the Assistant Attorney General for the State of Maryland.[4]

From 1967 to 1970, Judge Murnaghan was president of the Baltimore City School Board.[5]  He served as president and then chairman of the Walters Art Gallery from 1963 until being named chairman emeritus in 1985.[6]  Known for his participation in the public and political spheres in Baltimore, he assisted in the successful campaigns of Senator Paul Sarbanes in 1976 and Governor Harry Hughes in 1978.[7]

On May 8, 1979, he was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit by Jimmy Carter.[8]  While on the bench, Judge Murnaghan wrote over 500 opinions and more than half as many concurrences and dissents.[9]  Known for his compassion and professionalism, his opinions had great impacts in the areas of civil rights, labor, First Amendment law.[10]

Although it is rare for a circuit to reverse a district court finding on a clearly erroneous standard of review, in United States v. Gregory, Judge Murnaghan reversed the lower court’s finding that the Sheriff of Patrick County, Virginia, was not discriminating against women in the hiring of deputies.[11]  Judge Murnaghan stated that the district court erred in its factual findings and found that the record indicated that Sheriff Gregory routinely engaged in discriminatory practices against women in violation of Title VII.[12]

In a notable dissent, Judge Murnaghan alone argued against the constitutionality of a Virginia statute that allowed the Commonwealth to collect the DNA of all convicted felons for a law enforcement data bank.[13]  Judge Murnaghan believed that the Commonwealth did not justify the statute with an important state interest that outweighed non-violent felons’ reasonable expectations of privacy.[14]  He went on to warn of his “deep, disturbing, and overriding concern that, without a proper and compelling justification, the Commonwealth may be successful in taking significant strides towards the establishment of a future police state, in which broad and vague concerns for administrative efficiency will serve to support substantial intrusions into the privacy of citizens.”[15]

Judge Murnaghan’s contributions helped strengthen the foundations of democracy and equality, and he will be remembered for his devotion to civil rights.[16]  On August 31, 2000, the Honorable Francis Dominic Murnaghan, Jr. died at the age of 80.[17]  Upon his death, the Baltimore Sun avowed, “Judge Murnaghan was one of the most admired figures in the legal establishment for his urbane scholarship, legal knowledge, and public spirit.”[18]

 

[1] Francis Dominic Murnaghan, Jr., Fed. Jud. Ctr., https://www.fjc.gov/node/1385506 (last visited Oct. 14, 2018).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Biography of Judge Murnaghan, Francis D. Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellowship, http://www.murnaghanfellowship.org/judge_murnaghan (last visited Oct. 14, 2018).

[5] Longtime Federal Appellate Judge Francis D. Murnaghan Dies at 80, Wash. Post (Sept. 1, 2000),  https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/2000/09/01/longtime-federal-appellate-judge-francis-d-murnaghan-dies-at-80/d1be1771-8f0b-4d10-b094-77d7ac3820ba/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1823226946fb.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Fed. Jud. Ctr., supra note 1.

[9] Biography of Judge Murnaghan, supra note 4.

[10] Id.

[11] United States v. Gregory, 871 F.2d 1239, 1241 (4th Cir. 1989).

[12] Id. at 1247.

[13] Jones v. Murray, 962 F.2d 302, 311 (4th Cir. 1992).

[14] Id. at 312.

[15] Id. at 315.

[16] Biography of Judge Murnaghan, supra note 4.

[17] Fed. Jud. Ctr., supra note 1.

[18] Confirmation Hearing on the Nomination of Claude A. Allen, of Virginia, to be Circuit Judge for the Fourth Circuit; and Mark R. Filip, of Illinois, to be District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois Before the S. Comm. on the Judiciary, 108th Cong. 5 (2003) (statement of Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes).