Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Arizona County Could Be Left Holding the $96M Bag for Rogue Ex-Sheriff

Imani Gandy & Jessica Mason Pieklo

And the Religious Right goes after more taxpayer funding for religion, this time in New Mexico.

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

Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, has thus far cost the county’s taxpayers $70 million from two lawsuits challenging the racial profiling traffic stop practices he instituted during his reign of terror. Maricopa County tried to argue it was not liable and shouldn’t have to pick up the tab. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and said that Maricopa County is liable for Arpaio’s policies and therefore on the hook for the $70 million plus an extra $26 million expected to be spent this year on attorneys’ fees, new technology, and a monitor to oversee efforts to comply with a court order.

New Mexico has constitutional restrictions on public funding for private schools, but advocates for religious and private schools—including the infamous Becket Fund for Religious Liberty—are asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to reverse the ban. They think public funds should be used for textbooks at private schools. But that funding will take money away from public schools, according to the two parents who initiated the lawsuit six years ago.

A judge ruled that a California civil rights agency can sue on behalf of Tanesh Nutall, a transgender woman who allegedly suffered discrimination when an employee of the San Francisco Department of Police Accountability told Nutall she wasn’t allowed in the women’s bathroom. The city attorney’s office argued that the state’s anti discrimination laws—which prohibit gender-based discrimination by any business establishment or state-funded program or activity—did not apply to the employee or the agency that employed her. The judge disagreed and defined “business establishment” broadly to include local agencies open to the public.

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the states’s voter ID law. Critics say that the law, which requires a current state or federal photo ID or a special county-issued card, is a barrier to voting akin to an unconstitutional poll tax. Proponents say the law will guard against voter fraud. “But I thought voter fraud doesn’t exist,” you say. It doesn’t. And the court acknowledged that there is no evidence of voter fraud in Oklahoma elections, but it might happen! So better suppress votes, just in case. That’s Republican logic for you.

Adam Feldman at SCOTUSBlog has a piece dissecting the oral arguments that took place during this U.S. Supreme Court term and examining the level of participation among the justices. The piece is data-heavy but interesting if you’re a Supreme Court nerd, which we are. Justice Stephen Breyer speaks the most, followed by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that Justice Clarence Thomas said nothing at oral arguments this session.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a lawsuit brought against Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby by the five cops accused in the death of Freddie Gray. The cops claimed malicious prosecution, defamation, and invasion of privacy. Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote that Mosby was entitled to immunity and that just because the cops disagreed with Mosby’s decision to prosecute, that doesn’t entitle them to litigate their disagreement in court. As far we’re concerned, the cops should just be happy they’re not in jail.

Linda Greenhouse has an alarming New York Times piece using the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and the travel ban case to make predictions about how the U.S. Supreme Court justices view religion.

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has begun an investigation into claims that a school administrator forced an LGBTQ high school student to read the Bible as disciplinary action. The ODE is trying to determine whether the student’s First Amendment rights were violated and whether the administrator’s actions ran afoul of the constitutional proscriptions regarding the separation of church and state.

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