Constitutional Issues

Constitutional Issues

  • Do Prisoners Have a Right to Soap?
    In the ongoing litigation regarding prison conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, one request of the litigants stands out: they want more soap. And sometimes—especially at the district court level—prisoners have been able to get that soap. In a Texas case, Valentine v. Collier, the district court ordered the prison to “[p]rovide [p]laintiffs and the class members with unrestricted access to hand soap and disposable hand towels to facilitate handwashing.” Similarly, in Swain v. Junior, a Florida district court required that…

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  • Trump Weaponizes COVID-19 Against Illegal Immigrants
    As a criminal defense attorney in the border city of El Paso, Texas, I meet with illegal immigrants weekly, if not daily. I witness their journey firsthand. I represented families when President Trump piloted his family separation policy in El Paso. Today, I am witnessing yet another Trump assault against brown immigrants. Trump is weaponizing COVID-19. President Trump’s anti-immigration resume is extensive. It boasts, among other things, his threat to shut down the government if it doesn’t fund his “big,…

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  • Remember the Past: What Can a Governor Do When the Second COVID-19 Surge Comes?
    Back on January 1st we thought that 2020 would bring clarity of vision and foresight. Since then the world has turned upside down; however, long-standing legal precedent of what states can do in times of epidemics and pandemics has not. Many are claiming that it is unlawful for any governmental entity or official, in an effort to reduce COVID-19 infections and deaths, to impose restrictions upon travel, either across state borders or in large crowds within a state. I disagree….

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  • Korematsu, COVID-19, and The Question of Executive Deference
    “Wrong the day it was decided” is a judgment that the Supreme Court reserves for overturning its most egregious prior decisions. One of the cases that most recently received that declaration is Korematsu v. United States, a decision that infamously sanctioned the World War II internment of individuals of Japanese ancestry. The Court’s repudiation of that decision, equal parts laudable and belated, offers hope that the logic of this decision is a relic of the past, but such hope may…

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  • COVID Lays Bare the Need for Attending to Second Amendment Theory
    As angry protesters, some clad in tactical gear and armed with semi-automatic rifles, storm state capitols to decry COVID-related orders, it’s worth asking why the Second Amendment resides in our Bill of Rights. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court held that it was there because the founding fathers wanted to protect the existence of citizen militias. But the reason for codifying the right, said the five-Justice majority, did not confine its substantive scope—of law-abiding citizens “to keep and…

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  • The Dormant Commerce Clause and COVID-19 State-Ordered Business Closures
    Parties have begun filing lawsuits seeking to “reopen” their states. These lawsuits challenge business closures and stay-at-home orders mandated by state and local governments. The Supreme Court has acknowledged, in the due process context, “the authority of a State to enact quarantine laws and ‘health laws of every description.’” Beyond due process, however, at least one of these lawsuits has raised dormant commerce clause issues, contending that, by ordering businesses to close, the state is unconstitutionally interfering with Congress’ Article…

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  • Life Hangs in the Balance: Weighing Coronavirus Church Closings Against the RFRA
    On March 27, the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group unanimously issued an order restricting the gatherings of non-essential businesses and services. The Rev. Rodney Howard-Browne responded that he would only cancel church services for the Rapture and that pastors who canceled services were “pansies.” After holding church services on March 29, county authorities arrested Howard-Browne for unlawful assembly and violating the public health emergency order. While the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 applies only to the federal government,…

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  • Korematsu in the Age of COVID – A Note on The Constitution in Times of Crisis
    The case of Korematsu v. United States lives in constitutional infamy as the case which upheld the military policy of Japanese internment during WWII. In doing so, the Court—led by former KKK member Justice Black—did not deny that Japanese internment constituted a deprivation of constitutional rights. Instead, they found that the deprivation was justified due to the fact that the United States was at war. Because of this justification, Korematsu is one of several cases which stands for the proposition…

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  • South Dakota’s COVID-19 Response is a Battleground for Tribal Sovereignty
    In a May 5 post Assistant Attorney General for the Navajo Nation Department of Justice Paul Spruhan argued that Indian tribes should have authority to restrict movement through their territories in order to stem the tide of the COVID-19 epidemic. Those very principles are now being put to the test in South Dakota, where Gov. Kristi Noem has demanded that Oglala Sioux tribal leaders remove the checkpoints set up to regulate traffic through the reservation. Gov. Noem has previously come…

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  • Closed for Business – Open for Litigation?
    Can a business-closure regulation of commercial property in a pandemic be a taking?  In the midst of a pandemic, it generally falls to government to enact laws and regulations in an effort to curtail the spread of disease. For example, the Supreme Court discusses compulsory vaccination in Jacobson v. Massachusetts and quarantines in Smith v. Turner.  In a liberty-oriented constitutional federalist democratic republic like America, this can be challenging–indeed, the volume of published opinions in this area of law show…

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  • Surveillance Intrusiveness in a Pandemic
    Government surveillance capabilities have always been a matter of public concern, but the current pandemic makes the issue especially salient. We set out to discover what Americans think of government surveillance during this crisis. Americans have been inundated with media reports of novel forms of public health surveillance since the crisis began. Apple and Google just announced a partnership to create a smartphone contact-tracing application, which would use Bluetooth to trace a person’s movement and contacts. Apple is also using…

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  • Protests During the Pandemic
    As a general rule, the government is permitted to restrict activities, including protesting, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government can regulate the time, place, and manner of speech in public forums with a content neutral restriction so long as the restriction is narrowly tailored to “serve a significant government interest” and “leave[s] open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.” A shelter-in-place order can constitutionally prevent public gatherings for a period of time (many of these orders are in…

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  • The Necessity of Firearm Stores During the COVID-19 Pandemic
    Gun owners and would-be gun purchasers are arguing that state measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus infringe on their Second Amendment rights. To the extent the premise is correct—the Second Amendment guarantees access to a firearm store—it’s not clear that their conclusion follows. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, forty-five states have issued statewide stay at home orders. These orders are based upon guidance from the Center for Disease Control and other public health agencies that have…

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