Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.
If you think anti-abortion groups aren’t working overtime to ensure that Brett Kavanaugh is foisted onto the Supreme Court, think again: Dozens of state and national anti-choice groups have been targeting voters and urging them to contact U.S. senators to ask them to support Kavanaugh. It’s a grassroots movement any activist could be proud of—if the purpose weren’t to stack the court with yet another justice who will help the conservative wing of the Court decimate abortion rights.
Things are going from bad to worse for the Trump administration as Omarosa Manigault Newman continues the press junket for her new book, Unhinged. Last week she revealed that she was allegedly offered $15,000 a month to remain silent and sign a nondisclosure agreement that would cover the campaign and her time at the White House. Not to mention that she’s hinted of Trump being “inappropriate” with women (no surprise there). Bradley P. Moss of the blog Lawfare has the skinny on the free speech rights of federal employees. Here’s a hint: Trump does not have the authority to censor nonclassified communications of former federal employees. SO unless Omarosa starts spewing state secrets, there’s not much Trump can do to keep her from talking.
A transgender high school student has settled his lawsuit with the Volusia County School Board in Florida after he obtained a new birth certificate to show that his sex is male. The lawsuit alleged that the school board had violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and Title IX, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex in publicly funded educational programs. Barred from using male locker rooms and bathrooms, he will now be able to access these facilities. The settlement excludes any training for administrators on their legal obligations to trans students as well as compensation for damages or attorneys fees. As an aside, some states are refusing to issue trans people new birth certificates. We at Team Legal believe that people should stop focusing on other people’s genitalia, mind their own damn business, and just let trans people use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity in peace.
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Plaintiffs in Hawaii v. Trump have voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit challenging President Trump’s travel ban. The state filed the lawsuit in early 2017, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban in a truly abysmal 5-4 ruling in June. Apparently, Trump’s own use of the term “Muslim ban” and its use by his “lawyer” Rudy Giuliani wasn’t enough for the U.S. Supreme Court to understand that this policy is unlawfully designed to target Muslims. Hawaii Attorney General Russell Suzuki still believes that the ban is unconstitutional, but said that the plaintiffs are passing the baton to other litigants who have taken up the fight. Plaintiffs in California and Washington state recently filed federal lawsuits.
The Iowa Supreme Court gave the U.S. Supreme Court a stern talking-to over the high court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence in a recent ruling closing the warrant loophole, which permits warrantless searches as long as those searches comply with “reasonable” local policy. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled the warrant loophole violated the Iowa Constitution’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure and noted the folly in the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning: If the same agencies performing the searches are the agencies that determine the reasonableness of those searches, then those agencies basically have unlimited discretion—and that just gives cops the power to arrest drivers for minor offenses and then search the vehicle without a warrant. As Nick Sibilla noted for Forbes in May, it’s like letting the foxes run the henhouse.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the First Amendment claims made by Principal Alberto Fernandez and Assistant Principal Henny Cristobol who say their school district disciplined them for campaigning to convert the school they led into a charter school. In Florida, parents and school faculty can vote for this kind of change (which would also allow schools to operate with an independent board and not under the auspices of a school board); under law, staff are not supposed to be punished for doing so. Fernandez and Cristobol argued that their efforts—which included directing staff to research changing school types and holding faculty meetings about the issue—were protected by the First Amendment. But the court disagreed because those efforts were conducted “as part of their ‘official duties’ as public employees,” and ruled that because Fernandez and Cristobol “plainly spoke in the course of their official duties, their speech did not enjoy First Amendment protection.”
Slate‘s Mark Joseph Stern is making sense of what the hell is going on in West Virginia, where Republicans have impeached the entire state Supreme Court. Democratic legislators say it’s a coup to seize control of the judiciary. But, as Stern writes, the justices aren’t exactly blameless. One justice has been indicted on more than 20 counts of fraud, making false statements, and witness tampering while another pleaded guilty to felony wire fraud and resigned rather than face impeachment. The remaining justices rest are under fire for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to redecorate their offices while West Virginia is in the throes of a budget crisis. One justice alone dropped $500,000 for an office revamp. Maybe not illegal, but certainly unseemly.
A federal judge has ruled that the Trump administration cannot hide information about how it made the decision to implement a transgender military ban from the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging the policy. The judge has not yet ruled whether Trump can shield his own personal communications on the matter. The judge said that the documents were likely to show whether the administration imposed the ban for military purposes or “purely for political and discriminatory purposes.” Team Legal has a spoiler for you: It’s the latter.
The Conservative Republicans of Texas (CRT), an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, is demonstrating just how hateful it is. As Zack Ford wrote in Think Progress, CRT filed a motion for summary judgment in Pidgeon v. Turner this week, asking the court to halt all benefits for all spouses of Houston city employees. CRT has been arguing in court that the city is violating Texas’s unconstitutional ban on same-sex marriage by providing spousal benefits to same-sex couples. (They don’t seem to care that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down same-sex marriage bans in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges.) And since no couples are constitutionally entitled to benefits, CRT is now advocating for stripping all couples, whether same-sex or different-sex, of spousal benefits. What a staunch commitment to anti-LGBTQ bigotry to advocate stripping everyone of benefits just to stick it to gay couples.
Jack Phillips, the Masterpiece Cakeshop baker whose refusal to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in Colorado went to the U.S. Supreme Court (and was upheld), is under fire for discrimination against LGBTQ people again. This time, he refused to bake a cake for Autumn Scardina, a transgender attorney who wanted Phillips to bake her a cake celebrating her birthday, which happened to coincide with the anniversary of her coming out as trans. Unsurprisingly, Phillips told her that he doesn’t bake cakes celebrating gender transition. After she filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, he filed a lawsuit against the commission, claiming it “harbors hostility” toward him and that the complaint should be dismissed. Apparently, as Zack Ford of Think Progress notes, Phillips believes that his U.S. Supreme Court victory means that he is immunized from future claims. He is not.
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