Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.
Joe Arpaio, former Arizona sheriff and noted racist, was convicted last week of criminal contempt of court after he knowingly violated an order to stop detaining without legal basis people he suspected were undocumented immigrants. Despite the injunction, Arpaio, who was sheriff of Maricopa County at the time, continued to detain people, prompting the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to pursue the case against him.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana filed a petition last week asking the state’s Supreme Court to rule that an anti-transgender ballot initiative banning people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity can’t appear on 2018 election ballots. According to the ACLU, the wording of the measure, which framed the issue as one of privacy, would prejudice and mislead voters.
Mark Joseph Stern explains in Slate that the fight for LGBTQ rights in Mississippi is far from over. The full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (sitting en banc, as we legal nerds like to say) seems to be thinking about rehearing a three-judge panel’s controversial order that allowed Mississippi to enforce HB 1523, a law that permits individuals to discriminate against LGBTQ people due to their religion. As Stern notes, the Fifth Circuit has not yet agreed to rehear the case, but it made the unusual move of sending a letter requesting a response to the plaintiffs’ request for an en banc rehearing to attorneys of the defendants (Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and other Mississippi officials).
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The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s effort to get out of sitting for a deposition in the Kansas ACLU’s lawsuit challenging a law requiring voters in the state to provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote. The ACLU wants Kobach to answer questions under oath. Kobach balked and filed a request for an emergency stay of the deposition. The Tenth Circuit said Kobach had not met the requirements for a stay and said no. The lower court ordered him to testify and fined him $1,000. Ouch.
North Carolina Republicans have been dragging their feet when it comes to redrawing the house and senate maps that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled were illegal racial gerrymandering. U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles ordered the state to redraw the maps in November 2016 after she ruled that Republican legislators had packed Black voters into a handful of districts to dilute the Black vote. Nine months later, those maps have not yet been redrawn, prompting a group of federal judges to give lawmakers until September 1 to redraw the illegal maps.
U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth refused the request of nonprofit government watchdog group Common Cause to stop Trump’s voting commission from collecting the personal information it requested from states. Lambert said that the appeals courts would ultimately decide the issue and told the parties they should build a factual record for appeals courts, referring to himself as merely a “way station.” Most states have balked at being forced to turn over sensitive voter data to Trump’s so-called Commission on Electoral Integrity.
Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III recently filed an unsolicited brief in a case, Zarda v. Altitude Express, that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals is considering. The Second Circuit is poised to decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination “because of sex,” includes a prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Sessions says it doesn’t. The Obama administration said it did. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says it does. This, as Joanna Grossman and Anthony Michael Kreis argue for Verdict, puts the government at war with it itself.
Lambda Legal and OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network announced on Saturday that they intend to file a lawsuit challenging the “mean-spirited and discriminatory” ban on transgender people in the military that President Trump announced on Twitter.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that a lawsuit challenging Trump’s immigration policy will be filed Monday. The lawsuit alleges that it is illegal for the federal government to refuse to provide public safety grants to sanctuary cities.
The American Civil Liberties Union, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the National Immigration Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of Iranian and Yemeni immigrants challenging the U.S. State Department’s refusal to process their applications after they won the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery. The lottery is competitive, and attorneys for plaintiffs allege that if they don’t get their visas by September 30, they may lose their only chance at becoming U.S. citizens. Iran and Yemen are listed on Trump’s immigration ban.
In yet another demonstration that the Sessions DOJ doesn’t care about marginalized people, the department dropped an appeal in a key disability rights lawsuit. The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Emily Hall, who had to leave her job as a sheriff’s deputy temporarily to have surgery for a heart condition and who wasn’t physically capable of returning to her old position. She was told to apply for a less strenuous job, and when she did, she was rejected. Disability rights advocates are worried that the DOJ is moving in the wrong decision. No kidding.
The Denver Post editorial board penned an op-ed arguing that Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid would be a great pick for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Counterpoint from Jessica Mason Pieklo: No, she won’t. She’s as “nice” as Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, and we’ve seen how well that’s worked out.
Last week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case of Eryon Luke, a woman who was fired when she was pregnant despite the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., which the ACLU argues prevents just such firings. A certified nursing assistant, Luke was pregnant with twins, and her doctor instructed her not to lift anything heavier than 30 pounds. Rather than accommodate her, her employer fired her. The lower court dismissed her case, but the ACLU, arguing that the lower court got it wrong, appealed to the Fifth Circuit.