Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Tennessee ‘Deal’ Offering Less Jail Time for Sterilization or Birth Control Goes to Court

Imani Gandy & Jessica Mason Pieklo

The woman suing didn't even get the 30-day sentence reduction, though she definitely got a birth control implant that will cost her $250 to remove.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

A Tennessee woman, Christel Ward, filed a federal court lawsuit alleging that the White County program offering reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization violated her constitutional rights. The suit claims that the program amounts to “eugenics with a twist.” Ward wants to get her contraceptive implant removed, but was told she’d have to pay $250 she doesn’t have to do so. The kicker? Ward didn’t even get the promised 30 days reduction in jail sentence. Ward is asking for an order allowing the removal of her implant for free. She also wants punitive damages and for the court to declare the program unconstitutional.

A federal court gave the National Fair Housing Alliance, a nonprofit group that advocates for ending housing discrimination, the green light to proceed with a lawsuit alleging that Travelers Insurance had a policy of refusing to insure landlords who rented to Washington, D.C., tenants who receive federal housing vouchers.  The lawsuit alleges that this policy had a disparate impact on Black residents and women.

Conservative anti-choice law firm the Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of anti-choice activists challenging Chicago’s buffer zone ordinance, alleging that the law violates their First Amendment rights. The ordinance bars activists from coming within eight feet of visitors to abortion clinics once visitors are within 50 feet of the entrance, unless the person gives them permission.

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas scored a victory in its lawsuit challenging Houston’s “camping ban” ordinance targeting the homeless. Houston passed laws banning the use of public space for street tents and temporary structures. The federal court issued an injunction that prevents law enforcement from issuing citations to or arresting the homeless for camping in a public space or for using fabric, metal, cardboard, or other materials for living accommodations. The court also prohibits law enforcement from seizing materials that homeless people are using for shelter. It’s a good step toward treating homeless people like they’re, you know, people.

A married lesbian couple in California has filed a discrimination lawsuit against Cherry Creek Mortgage, where one of the women was formerly employed. The couple claims the company revoked their health insurance due to their sexual orientation. Judith Dominguez enrolled herself and her wife, Patricia Martinez, in the health-care plan offered by her employer when she began working there. After the couple had been insured for most of 2016, the company revoked their insurance in November 2016, claiming that it only provides health insurance to opposite-sex couples. The company also retroactively canceled their insurance back to March 2016—leaving the women with more than $40,000 of bills that would have been previously covered. A spokesperson for the company said that the women didn’t meet the company’s criteria for spousal benefits and also mumbled something about religious views that employees shouldn’t marry a same-sex spouse. Because when it comes to bigotry, falling back on religious justifications seems to be the preferred strategy.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon Kennedy refuses to recuse herself in Capital Care Network v. Department of Health, a case that may result in the closure of Toledo’s only abortion clinic. Kennedy gave a recent speech at a Greater Toledo Right to Life event, thus raising the specter of bias. After two ethics complaints against Kennedy were dismissed, Capital Care Network, the plaintiffs in the case, asked Kennedy to recuse herself. Her response, essentially, was “Nope.”

Courtney Canfield, one of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s former employees, said that she was fired from her job because she refused to go to church. She’s calling it reverse religious discrimination and filed a lawsuit against Kobach’s office and Eric Rucker, the assistant secretary of state. Attorneys for the defendants are countering that Canfield was fired because her attendance at work was a “nightmare” and she on her cell phone a lot. Canfield’s attorneys say that she was repeatedly invited to attend a religious service held in the secretary of state’s office and never attended “despite the repeated invitations.” And get this: Canfield didn’t know she was fired when she was sent home, and Rucker contacted her grandmother, a longtime GOP supporter, to break the news.

In Mother Jones, Samantha Michaels writes about a federal judge, Linda R. Reade, who funneled hundreds of immigrants into prisons as her husband was investing in private prisons. Five days before one of the biggest immigration raids in history, for example, Reade’s husband bought more prison stock. Her husband held stock in the companies once known as Corrections Corporation of America and Wackenhut, though Reade did not rule on cases involving those companies. She also was in communication with immigration and other federal officials before the raid. Mother Jones was unable to determine how many of the immigrants Reade sentenced to prison were sent to private prisons, but ethics experts nevertheless say that the appearance of impropriety “might cause a reasonable person to question whether her judgment was affected by her personal interests.”

As legal ethicists discuss U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s ethically dubious plan to give a speech at the D.C.-based Trump International Hotel in September—because several lawsuits have been filed regarding Trump’s alleged ongoing violations of the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause—one man is certain that it absolutely doesn’t raise any ethical issues: conservative commentator Jonathan Adler.

One of Trump’s many attorneys, Marc Kasowitz, has filed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations lawsuit on behalf of Energy Transfer Partners, the owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline, against Greenpeace and several other environmentalist groups. The lawsuit demands $300 million in damages arising out of the environmental groups’ activism against the pipeline. Greenpeace counters that the lawsuit is an act of “bullying and a SLAPP suit. (You know what SLAPP suits are, because you’ve been reading “Boom! Lawyered,” #TeamLegal’s law explainers, haven’t you?)

A Washington County, Florida, school district is in hot water due to alleged failure to keep religion out of schools. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to Joseph Taylor, the county superintendent of schools alleging that the district had committed serious constitutional violations, including a teacher promoting the sale of religious T-shirts, teachers requiring students to transcribe Bible chapters, the administrations displaying religious signage on the football field, and coaches leading students in prayer.

The Massachusetts state Office of Alcohol Testing (OAT) is under fire for withholding evidence that a breathalyzer machine  used in tens of thousands of drunk driving cases may be unreliable. Lawyers for drunk driving defendants argue that Massachusetts district attorneys intentionally withheld exculpatory evidence and that the outcome could end up affecting 58,000 drunk driving cases. In response, a spokesperson for the district attorneys announced that they would no longer offer breathalyzer evidence in trials or plea negotiations until the OAT figures out what the hell is going on.

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