Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.
After firing dozens of U.S. attorneys after he took office, President Donald Trump finally began to nominate replacements last week. Despite his protestations that Democrats are delaying his nominees, the fact of the matter is that Trump had never sent names to lawmakers for confirmation. Indeed, he didn’t nominate a single replacement U.S. attorney until last Monday. Review a list of Trump’s initial list of nominees here.
Julie Ingersoll at Religion Dispatches notes that we should be concerned that Trump has added Jay Sekulow to his legal team and explains what it means for so-called religious freedom. Sekulow is lead counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian public interest law firm that litigates the religious right’s culture war agenda against abortion rights, the First Amendment, LGBTQ rights, and Islam. It is unclear whether Sekulow’s role will extend beyond helping Trump weather possible legal woes (though he’s never been a defense attorney), but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Attorneys for Joe Kennedy, a former assistant football coach for the Bremerton School District in Washington state, argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that his First Amendment rights were violated when the school district ordered him to stop praying on the 50-yard line. Kennedy defied the order, resulting in the district placing him on paid leave and refusing to renew his contract in 2016. No word on when a ruling is expected.
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Ryan “Comet” Alley, a transgender man, filed a complaint last week with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights against the Seattle Public Library for refusing to let him use the only private restroom in the building. Seattle has an all-gender bathroom ordinance, which requires any single-stall restroom in a public place to be accessible to everyone irrespective of gender identity.
A transgender woman of color is suing a McDonald’s franchise for discrimination under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, a 1977 law that prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, education and public services, regardless of age, national origin, marital status, race, religion, or sex. La’Ray Reed alleges that her managers called her slurs, groped her genitals, and required her to use a broom closet as a bathroom.
In Florida’s controversial “docs v. Glocks” case, the full panel of the 11th Circuit agreed with plaintiffs about the unconstitutionality of a 2011 law that blocked doctors from reporting a patient’s gun ownership in most circumstances. The law barred physicians from entering information about gun ownership into medical records and required doctors to refrain from asking about gun ownership unless the doctor believed in “good faith” that the information was relevant to medical care or safety. The judge said that the law violated doctors’ First Amendment rights. The state has declined to appeal the ruling, so the law is dead.
A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to produce an important page of Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s security clearance form. He was supposed to disclose any contacts he had with Russian officials on that form. DOJ has until July 12 to comply.
Under Sessions’ leadership, DOJ issued verbal instructions that attorneys in its civil rights division should seek settlements without consent decrees. That means there will be no continuing court oversight of efforts to protect civil rights, including reforming police departments like those in Ferguson, Missouri; desegregating school systems; and ensuring access for disabled persons, among other things. Don’t know what a consent decree is? Team Legal has your back.
Flint, Michigan, still does not have safe drinking water after nearly three years. But there’s some news: The Michigan Attorney General’s Office charged the state health department director and four other public figures with involuntary manslaughter last week for their role in the water crisis.
David Dayen, writing for the American Prospect, explains that Neil Gorsuch’s first opinion as U.S. Supreme Court associate justice allows debt collectors to skirt a law meant to protect debtors from harassment. Gorsuch parsed the distinction between debt collectors—third parties who try to collect defaulted debt—and debt buyers who purchase defaulted debt and then harass debtors for the money on their own behalf. Gorsuch would allow debt buyers to be exempt from the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act of 1977, which prohibits harassing or intimidating conduct from debt collectors and also enables debtors to sue them.
Montana State University is denying that it violated a former student’s free speech and due process rights when it expelled him from school for comments about transgender people. According to the former student’s lawsuit, a teacher with whom the student spoke about his opposition to transgender identity misinterpreted his comments as being threatening to a transgender woman student in the class. According to the instructor, the former student said he would “break the face” of the transgender student if she spoke to him outside of the classroom.
At a Louisville, Kentucky, city council meeting, supporters of a 20-foot buffer zone in front of EMW Women’s Surgical Center (the only abortion clinic left in the state) argued that the zone will not obstruct free speech and will protect pregnant patients from hostile aggressive protesters. The buffer zone is still in the planning stages; no ordinance has been drafted yet.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won a major legal victory last week when a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not perform an adequate study of the environmental consequences of the Dakota Access pipeline. Judge James Boasberg asked the attorneys to appear before him again to argue whether the pipeline should operate rather than ordering that the pipeline be shut off until a proper study is completed.