constitutional law

Civil Forfeiture

Overview

Civil forfeiture occurs when the government seizes property under suspicion of its involvement in illegal activity. Such a proceeding is conducted in rem, or against the property itself, rather than in personam, or against the owner of the property; by contrast, criminal forfeiture is an in personam proceeding. For this reason, civil forfeiture case names often appear strange, such as United States v. Eight Rhodesian Stone Statues,

Emoluments Clause

Also known as the Title of Nobility Clause, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any person holding a government office from accepting any present, emolument, office, or title from any "King, Prince, or foreign State," without congressional consent.

County of Los Angeles v. Mendez

Issues 

Does a police officer violate the Fourth Amendment when the officer uses reasonable force in response to a hazardous situation the officer created, and does an injured individual’s actions that give rise to the need for use of force constitute an intervening, superseding event that severs the causal relationship between the police officers’ conduct and the individual’s injuries?

In this case, the Supreme Court will decide whether a police officer’s conduct leading up to her use of force against a citizen is relevant to the inquiry of whether that force was reasonable, and if so, what the limits are on holding that officer liable. The deputies of the County of Los Angeles argue that no liability should attach to their decision to open fire on Angel and Jennifer Mendez, because they were responding to the Mendezes’ threatening behavior. The Mendezes argue that the deputies provoked their threatening behavior, so they should be liable for opening fire on the Mendezes. The parties disagree as to whether the Ninth Circuit’s provocation rule, which would hold the deputies liable under the Fourth Amendment, conforms to Supreme Court precedent. A win for the deputies could promote police officer safety and help preserve the integrity of the qualified immunity doctrine by keeping standards of behavior clear. A win for the Mendezes could preserve the balance of protections for police officers and citizens and provide better incentives for officer reasonableness during every stage of an investigation.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

  1. The Ninth Circuit’s provocation rule holds officers liable under the Fourth Amendment for objectively reasonable force, vitiates qualified-immunity protections, and permits tort liability in the absence of proximate cause. Should this Court reject the provocation rule and continue to analyze police use of force under the established legal framework set out in Graham?
  2. The Court of Appeals held alternatively that the Deputies were liable for the shooting “under basic notions of proximate cause.” Did the court err in holding that the failure to secure a warrant proximately caused the shooting, particularly where the Deputies shot in reasonable self-defense after one of the Plain-tiffs pointed a gun at them and the outcome would not have changed if the Deputies had a warrant?

On October 1, 2010, a group of police officers and deputies were searching for a wanted parolee in a California neighborhood. See Mendez v. Cty. Of Los Angeles, 815 F.3d 1178, 1184–85 (9th Cir. 2016); Brief for Petitioners, County of Los Angeles et al.

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Hui v. Castaneda

Issues 

Whether a lawsuit claiming that federal employees of the Public Health Service committed medical negligence may be filed under a federal statute that makes the United States the defendant, or whether the employees may be sued personally for violating the Constitution.

 

This case involves a lawsuit brought by the estate of decedent, Mr. Castaneda, against two Public Health Service (“PHS”) officials (collectively, the “Petitioners”) for failing to provide proper medical care to Mr. Castaneda during his custody in a state immigration facility. Mr. Castaneda had a growing, fungating lesion on his penis but was denied a simple skin biopsy from PHS officials. Consequently, Mr. Castaneda died of penile cancer at the age of 36. At issue here is whether the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988 (“FTCA”), providing that federal employees are not protected from constitutional tort claims, extends to 422 U.S.C. § 233(a) of the Emergency Health Personnel Act, which covers PHS officials. The Supreme Court’s decision in this case may significantly affect the extent to which prisoners may seek recourse if denied constitutionally guaranteed access to adequate medical care while under state custody. This case may also affect public health personnel: while a decision for Respondents may discourage federal employees from committing constitutional violations, it may also negatively impact employment.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

(1) Does 42 U.S.C. § 233(a) make the Federal Tort Claims Act the exclusive remedy for claims arising from medical care and related functions provided by Public Health Service personnel, thus barring Bivens actions?

This case centers on interpreting the scope of immunity afforded to personal health service officials within the context of 42 U.S.C. § 233(a) of the Emergency Health Personnel Act. This statute covers the employees of the Public Health Service, and 28 U.S.C.

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Hernández v. Mesa

Issues 

Should the availability of constitutional rights for aliens not on United States soil turn on practical factors beyond the formal geographic location of international borders and, if so, may an alien injured on foreign territory by an officer standing in the United States bring a Bivens claim? Additionally, may a federal officer’s conduct be shielded by qualified immunity based on facts unknown to the officer at the time of his conduct?

In this case, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Constitution allows parents of a Mexican citizen with no significant ties to the United States to sue a U.S. Border Patrol Agent who shot and killed their son on the Mexican side of the culvert separating the two countries while the agent was standing in the United States. The parents of the deceased teen argue that the Court should extend extraterritorial jurisdiction for practical reasons, that the border patrol agent should not be shielded by qualified immunity because he did not know the facts necessary to justify his force at the time he used it, and that the Court should allow them to bring a Bivens claim because it is the only available remedy. The border patrol agent counters that the Court should not extend jurisdiction to an area not under U.S. control, that he should be shielded by qualified immunity because a reasonable officer in his circumstances could have inferred the facts necessary to justify his use of force, and that the family is not entitled to bring a Bivens claim because the rights they claim were not clearly established at the time he acted. To the parents, defeat would foreclose any possibility to recover; to the Government, defeat would obstruct its foreign operations by implicating Fourth Amendment concerns in international security operations. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Does a formalist or functionalist analysis govern?

2. May qualified immunity be granted or denied based on facts—such as the victim’s legal status—unknown to the officer at the time of the incident?

3. May the claim in this case be asserted under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388 (1971)?

On June 7, 2010, a group of Mexican teenagers were playing below a bridge leading to the United States border—in a channel that separated Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas. See Hernández v. Mesa, 757 F.3d 249, 255 (5th Cir. 2014); Brief for Petitioners, Jesus C. Hernández et al.

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City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation

Issues 

Basic Governing Principles as Noted by the Second Circuit

The Second Circuit cited three basic principles that govern the issues at hand. The first is the Oneida's right of occupancy on Indian country, which "may extend from generation to generation, and will cease only by dissolution of the tribe, or their consent to sell to the party possessed of the right of pre-emption." Oneida Indian Nation, 337 F.3d. at 152 (citing In re New York Indians, 72 U.S. 761, 771 (1866)). The second, codified in the Non-Intercourse Act, represents federal preeminence over the disposition of land in Indian country, since "Congress alone has the right to say when the [United States'] guardianship over the Indians may cease." Id. (citing United States v. Boylan, 265 F. 165, 171 (2d. Cir. 1920)).  The sale or conveyance of reservation land can only be made with congressional sanction, that is, "by treaty or convention entered into pursuant to the Constitution." Id. (citing 25 U.S.C. § 177 (2000)). The third principle is federal preemption, which prohibits states from imposing property taxes upon Indian reservation land without congressional approval. Id. (citing In re New York Indians, 72 U.S. at 771).

 

In 1997 and 1998, the Oneidas re-purchased title to parcels of aboriginal land within Sherrill, New York, in open market transactions. Sherrill subsequently assessed property taxes, which the Oneidas ignored, asserting that the properties are contained within the Oneida Indian Reservation and therefore are considered to be "Indian Country", which is nontaxable by state municipalities. Sherrill sent the Oneidas notices of tax delinquency, held a tax sale where Sherrill repurchased the parcels, then initiated eviction proceedings. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York found in favor of the Oneidas. On appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed the District Court and also found that the 1838 Treaty of Buffalo Creek, 7 Stat. 550, did not require the Oneidas to abandon their lands in the state of New York in exchange for land in Kansas, and further, that a reservation continues to exist even if a tribe ceases to exist and is protected under the Non-Intercourse Act. The Supreme Court must now assess the Second Circuit Court's interpretations.

This case consists of four separate questions, which ultimately address whether properties reacquired by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York are subject to taxation by the City of Sherrill, New York and Madison County, New York.

1. Whether alleged reservation land is Indian Country pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1151 and this Court's decision in Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie Tribal Gov't, 522 U.S. 520 (1998) where the land was neither set aside by the federal government nor superintended by the federal government?

2. Whether alleged reservation land was set aside by the federal government for purposes of Indian Country analysis under 18 U.S.C. § 1151 and Native Village of Venetie Tribal Gov't where the alleged reservation was established by the State of New York in the 1788 Treaty of Fort Schuyler, and not by any federal treaty, action or enactment?

3. Whether the 1838 Treaty of Buffalo Creek, which required the New York Oneidas to permanently abandon their lands in New York, resulted in the disestablishment of the Oneida's alleged New York reservation?

4. Whether alleged reservation land may (i) remain Indian Country or (ii) be subject to the protections of the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act, or Non-Intercourse Act, 25 U.S.C. § 177, if the tribe claiming reservation status and Non-Intercourse Act protection ceases to exist?

 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Whether alleged reservation land is Indian Country pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1151 and this Court's decision in Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie Tribal Gov't, 522 U.S. 520 (1998) where the land was neither set aside by the federal government nor superintended by the federal government?

2. Whether alleged reservation land was set aside by the federal government for purposes of Indian Country analysis under 18 U.S.C. § 1151 and Native Village of Venetie Tribal Gov't where the alleged reservation was established by the State of New York in the 1788 Treaty of Fort Schuyler, and not by any federal treaty, action or enactment?

3. Whether the 1838 Treaty of Buffalo Creek, which required the New York Oneidas to permanently abandon their lands in New York, resulted in the disestablishment of the Oneida's alleged New York reservation?

4. Whether alleged reservation land may (i) remain Indian Country or (ii) be subject to the protections of the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act, or Non-Intercourse Act, 25 U.S.C. § 177, if the tribe claiming reservation status and Non-Intercourse Act protection ceases to exist?

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Beard v. Banks

Issues 

What right do prisoners have to read secular publications and display photographs while serving their sentences? To what extent can prison officials infringe on this right to serve the prison’s legitimate policy goals?

 

The Long Term Segregation Unit (“LTSU”) of the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was established to house “the worst of the worst” of the prison’s population. When they first enter the LTSU, inmates cannot keep newspapers, magazines, or photographs in their cells, though they have limited access to religious and legal materials. In this case, the Supreme Court will decide whether the prison’s regulation is “rationally related to a legitimate penological interest,” and therefore constitutional under the Court’s holding in Turner v. Safley

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Does a prison policy that denies newspapers, magazines and photographs to the most difficult inmates in the prison system in an effort to promote security and good behavior violate the 1st Amendment?

The Long Term Segregation Unit (“LTSU”) in Pittsburgh’s State Correctional Institution serves as a prison within a prison, housing inmates deemed “too disruptive, violent or problematic” to reside in the general prison population. Banks v. Beard, 399 F.3d 134, 136–137 (3rd Cir. 2005). Inmates may end up in the LTSU after unsuccessful escape attempts, assaults on guards or fellow prisoners, or incidents of sexual predation. Id.

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Zubik v. Burwell, et al. (14-1418)

Issues 

  1. Does the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ self-certification requirement for objecting religious non-profits under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) violate the rights of these non-profits to freely exercise their religion?
  2. Would the government satisfy the Court’s test for overriding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) where it admits that its alternative scheme may not fulfill the regulatory objective of providing contraceptives at no cost to objecting employers?

The Supreme Court will decide whether requiring objecting religious non-profit organizations to sign a waiver allowing employees to receive health coverage, including contraception and abortion-inducing drugs from third parties, violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). Petitioners, a group of Catholic non-profits (the “Catholic groups”), argue that the requirement forces them to offer health coverage to their employees in a manner inconsistent with the Catholic groups’ faith. The Catholic groups further argue that the requirement has been imposed without proof that the mandated coverage cannot be achieved through alternative means. Sylvia Burwell, the secretary of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, counter that the objections of these religious organizations are not a cognizable burden under RFRA. Furthermore, their refusing to sign the waiver will frustrate the government’s compelling interest in protecting the health of all women, including female employees of Catholic groups. This decision could expand the religious exemption to the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, and will further define the limits of the First Amendment protections afforded under RFRA. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1.  Does the Government violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) by forcing objecting religious nonprofit organizations to comply with the HHS contraceptive mandate under an alternative regulatory scheme that requires these organizations to act in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs?

2.  Can the Government satisfy RFRA’s demanding test for overriding sincerely held religious objections in circumstances where the Government itself admits that overriding the religious objection may not fulfill its regulatory objective—namely, the provision of no-cost contraceptives to objectors’ employees?

The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), passed in 2010, requires health insurers to cover preventive care and screenings for women at no cost according to guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”). Geneva College et al. v. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services et al. at 12–13.

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Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (15-274)


Issues 

Can a state enforce laws that significantly reduce the availability of abortion services while failing to advance any valid interest, including the state’s interest in promoting health?

In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2 (“H.B. 2”), which imposed new requirements on abortion clinics. For example, H.B. 2 required a physician performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the abortion clinic. Whole Woman’s Health, a private abortion clinic, sued the state of Texas to lift the new restrictions. The Supreme Court will determine whether a state can enforce laws that significantly reduce the availability of abortion services while failing to advance any valid interest, including the state’s interest in promoting health. Whole Woman’s Health argues that H.B. 2 imposes an undue burden on women’s access to abortions. Hellerstedt contends that H.B. 2’s justification of improving patient health is supported by substantial evidence, and H.B. 2 will not impose a burden in the majority of cases. This case implicates H.B. 2’s effect on women’s health and H.B. 2’s imposed costs on women seeking abortions.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1a. When applying the Due Process Clause standard associated with the Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey decision, does a court err by refusing to consider whether and to what extent laws that restrict abortion for the stated purpose of promoting health actually serve the government’s interest in promoting health?



1b. Did the Fifth Circuit err in concluding that this standard permits Texas to enforce, in nearly all circumstances, laws that would cause a significant reduction in the availability of abortion services while failing to advance the State’s interest in promoting health—or any other valid interest?

2. Did the Fifth Circuit err in holding that res judicata provides a basis for reversing the district court’s judgment in part?

In 2013, Texas passed House Bill Two (“H.B. 2”), which places specific requirements on abortion clinics. See Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, 790 F.3d 563 (5th Cir.

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Fourteenth Amendment

Overview

The Fourteenth Amendment contains a number of important concepts, most famously state action, privileges & immunities, citizenship, due process, and equal protection—all of which are contained in Section One.  However, the Fourteenth Amendment contains four other sections.  Section Two deals with the apportionment of representatives to Congress.  Section Three forbids a

 

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