Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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Indiana law provides that state’s election polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. In 2019, Indiana enacted amendments: only a county election board has standing in an Indiana court to request the extension of the hours and only if the board’s members unanimously vote to file suit, IND. CODE 3- 11.7-7-2. Before a court may extend the poll hours, several findings must be made, including that the polls were substantially delayed in opening or subsequently closed during normal polling hours and any extension must be limited to not more than the duration of time the polls were closed and only for those polls whose opening was delayed.Common Cause challenged the amendments as burdening the fundamental right to vote, divesting state courts of jurisdiction to hear federal claims in violation of the Supremacy Clause, and depriving voters of procedural due process. On September 22, 2020, the district court granted a preliminary injunction.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Indiana may enforce the statutes as written. The court noted that no decision of the Supreme Court or any court of appeals has held that the Constitution requires a state to provide a private right of action to enforce any state law. To the extent that federal law will require Indiana to provide such an extension, voters can invoke their federal rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The amendments do not place a burden on the right to vote, View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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A Wisconsin jury found Gage guilty of repeatedly sexually assaulting his daughter, H.R.G., when she was a child. Gage asserted that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to interview and present testimony from his son and mother, Josh and Nancy. Gage was living with Nancy at the time of the assaults and most of the assaults occurred on Nancy's property. The state appellate court concluded that Gage was not prejudiced by his trial counsel’s failure to call those witnesses because their testimony in post-conviction proceedings concerned only matters such as the layout of Nancy's house.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas relief. The state court’s decision was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, despite its incorrect recitation of the "Strickland" prejudice standard. The state court’s analysis focused on the consistency between Josh’s and Nancy’s testimony at the post-conviction hearing and H.R.G.’s testimony at trial, which can reasonably be interpreted as “whether the proffered testimony could have affected the outcome,” or its likely impact on the verdict. The state court noted that Josh’s and Nancy’s testimony did not undermine H.R.G.’s testimony in any significant way. View "Gage v. Richardson" on Justia Law

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In 2008, an Illinois jury convicted Brown of three counts of first-degree murder for shooting three people outside of the Champaign American Legion building. Brown subsequently filed two post-conviction motions, a direct appeal, and a federal habeas corpus petition. Brown’s only remaining claim is that the Illinois Court unreasonably applied the Supreme Court’s Batson holding. Ware was one of two African-Americans in the 60-person venire gathered for Brown’s trial. The court asked whether anyone was familiar with the American Legion where the crime took place. Ware said yes: “Been on the outside. Not inside.” He denied that his familiarity with the site would affect his jury service. Ware was excused at the prosecutor's request. The court overruled a Batson objection, finding that Brown failed to make “a prima facie case that a discriminatory practice was being conducted” and did not ask the prosecution to provide “a race-neutral explanation” for its strike. The Illinois Appellate Court explained that there was no evidence of a pattern of striking African-Americans or of a disproportionate number of strikes used against African-Americans and that Ware meaningfully distinguished himself from other potential jurors by stating that he was familiar with the crime scene.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The Illinois court correctly noted the prosecution’s apparent reason for striking Ware—that he had been to the crime scene—and found no circumstances giving rise to an inference that the prosecution engaged in racial discrimination. View "Brown v. Jones" on Justia Law

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For several years Miller provided Dix with living space in her basement, without payment of rent. Miller told Dix to move out so she could sell the house. He refused; Miller called the police. Officers told Miller that she could not evict Dix without a court order. Miller called the police again the next day. Officers arrived, allegedly knowing that there had been no domestic disturbance. They prevented Dix from entering the house while Miller hauled Dix’s things outside. Dix protested and yelled insults. Officers threatened to arrest him for disorderly conduct. Eventually, Dix left and got a moving van. When he returned, the officers allowed him inside to retrieve his property but refused him access to certain rooms and took his keys.Dix a pro se suit, with 12 causes of action against nine defendants. The district court struck the pleading citing “redundant, impertinent, and scandalous allegations.” Dix amended his complaint. adding seven causes of action and five defendants, including Fourth Amendment claims against the officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. With respect to the Fourth Amendment claims, the court noted that Dix was free to leave at any time and that Miller maintained complete possession and control over her home but had granted Dix a revocable license. When a license is revoked, the licensee becomes a trespasser. A seizure of property occurs when there is meaningful interference with an individual’s possessory interests; here there was none. Even if there were a seizure, it was reasonable. View "Dix v. Edelman Financial Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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Indiana counts an absentee ballot only if it is received by noon on Election Day. In September 2020, a district court found that rule unconstitutional, reasoning that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, which has led to more use of mail-in voting, creates a risk that ballots mailed close to Election Day will not be received on time.The Seventh Circuit reversed an injunction requiring the state to count all absentee ballots received by November 13, 2020. Difficulties attributable to the virus do not require changes in electoral rules. If it is possible to vote in person, the rules for absentee ballots are constitutionally valid if they are supported by a rational basis and do not discriminate based on a forbidden characteristic. It is rational to require absentee votes to be received by Election Day, just as in-person voting ends on Election Day. Counting the votes, and announcing the results, as soon as possible after the polls close serves a civic interest. People can protect themselves by using early in-person voting or posting their ballots early. Those who act at the last minute assume risks even without a pandemic. Federal judges should avoid changing electoral rules close to an election. In September, COVID-19 was not a last-minute event; the district court acted too close to the election. View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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A district judge extended Wisconsin’s deadline for online and mail-in registration by one week; extended the deadline for delivery of absentee ballots by mail by allowing for online delivery and access by October 29; and extended the deadline for the receipt of mailed ballots from Election Day to November 9, if the ballots are postmarked on or before November 3. On September 29, the Seventh Circuit denied motions for a stay in these appeals, reasoning that Wisconsin’s legislative branch was not authorized to represent the state’s interest in defending its statutes. Subsequently, the court certified the question to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, which responded that the state legislature is authorized to represent Wisconsin’s interest in the validity of state laws.The Seventh Circuit then stayed the district court order pending appeal. A federal court should not change the rules so close to an election and political rather than judicial officials are entitled to decide when a pandemic justifies changes to otherwise-valid rules. The district court entered its injunction six weeks before the election and less than four weeks before the first deadline that it altered. Voters have had many months to register or obtain absentee ballots and to cast ballots while preserving social distancing. The district court did not find that any person who wants to avoid voting in person on Election Day would be unable to cast a ballot in Wisconsin by planning ahead. Voters who wait until the last minute face problems regardless of the pandemic. View "Wisconsin State Legislature v. Bostelmann" on Justia Law

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Indiana voters in 13 categories can vote by mail. One category encompasses voters aged 65 and older; others encompass disabled or homebound voters, voters who lack transportation, and voters who expect to be absent from the county on election day. For the June 2020 primary election, the Indiana Election Commission responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by extending absentee-voting privileges to all registered, qualified voters. The order was not renewed for the November general election. Indiana voters may vote during 28 days before the election; the state is implementing safety guidelines and procuring protective equipment. Plaintiffs argued that Indiana’s extension of absentee ballots to elderly voters violated the Twenty-Sixth Amendment by abridging younger voters' rights and that requiring some voters to cast in-person ballots during the pandemic infringes on their fundamental right to vote.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction requiring Indiana to permit unlimited absentee voting. The fundamental right to vote does not extend to a right to cast an absentee ballot. The pandemic, not Indiana’s laws, caused the difficulties that might accompany in-person voting. The Constitution explicitly authorizes states to prescribe the manner of holding federal elections; balancing the interests of discouraging fraud and mitigating election-related issues with encouraging voter turnout is a judgment reserved to the legislature. Federal courts must exercise caution and restraint before upending state regulations on the eve of an election. . Voting is already underway in Indiana. View "Indiana Vote by Mail, Inc. v. Okeson" on Justia Law

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Most people eligible for Medicaid benefits are “categorically needy” because their income falls below a threshold of eligibility. People with higher income but steep medical expenses are “medically needy” once they spend enough of their own assets to qualify, 42 U.S.C. 1396a(a)(10). Plaintiffs contend that medical expenses they incurred before being classified as “medically needy” should be treated as money spent on medical care, whether or not those bills have been paid, which would increase Illinois's payments for their ongoing care.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their suit. Medicaid is a cooperative program through which the federal government reimburses certain expenses of states that abide by the program’s rules. Medicaid does not establish anyone’s entitlement to receive particular payments. The federal-state agreement is not enforceable by potential beneficiaries. Plaintiffs bypassed their administrative remedies and do not have a judicial remedy under 1396a(r)(1)(A). Section 1396a(a)(8) provides that a state’s plan must provide that all individuals wishing to apply for medical assistance under Medicaid shall have the opportunity to do so and that assistance shall be furnished with reasonable promptness to all eligible individuals; some courts have held that this requirement can be enforced in private suits. If such a claim were available, it would fail. Plaintiffs are receiving benefits. The court also rejected claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12131–34, and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794. Plaintiffs receive more governmental aid than nondisabled persons. View "Nasello v. Eagleson" on Justia Law

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Bourgeois was convicted of murder on federal property, 18 U.S.C. 7 and 1111, and sentenced to death after he brutally abused and murdered his two-year-old daughter in 2002. Bourgeois collaterally attacked his death sentence on the ground that he is intellectually disabled, citing the Federal Death Penalty Act (FDPA), 18 U.S.C. 3596(c), and the Supreme Court’s “Atkins” decision (2002). He fully litigated that claim under 28 U.S.C. 2255, then sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2241. To invoke that statute, Bourgeois had to show that his case fit within the “savings clause,” 28 U.S.C. 2255(e). In the district court, Bourgeois accompanied his section 2241 petition with a motion to stay his execution—which the district court granted. The court found that the government had waived its argument that Bourgeois could not channel his FDPA claim through the savings clause.The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that Bourgeois does not meet the stringent savings-clause eligibility requirements and that his 2241 petition is procedurally barred. The district court’s factual determination that the government waived its argument was clearly erroneous and an abuse of discretion. Even if the government had forfeited its FDPA argument, that forfeiture would not prevent consideration of the savings-clause issue. .The savings clause is not simply another avenue for appeal. Bourgeois had the chance to appeal the court’s denial of his intellectual-disability claim; there was nothing “structurally inadequate or ineffective about section 2255 as a vehicle.” View "Bourgeois v. Watson" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Webster was sentenced to death for the murder of a 16-year-old girl. Webster has repeatedly sought relief from that sentence on the ground he advanced at trial—that he is intellectually disabled. In 2009, his lawyers came upon records dating to 1994 from the Social Security Administration showing that three different doctors found him intellectually disabled. In 2015, the Seventh Circuit held that Webster was not barred by the limitations imposed on successive requests for post-conviction relief from seeking to show that he is ineligible for the death penalty based on newly discovered evidence. The court remanded for a determination of whether the Social Security records constituted newly discovered evidence that counsel did not uncover despite diligent efforts.The district court found that Webster’s defense counsel did not discover the Social Security records despite reasonable diligence at the time of trial, held a five-day hearing, and determined that Webster had carried his burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that he is intellectually disabled. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision to vacate Webster’s death sentence. Documentary evidence established that defense counsel focused on the possible existence of Social Security records and repeatedly requested them. Having demonstrated substantial deficits in intellectual functioning and adaptive functioning and onset of the deficiencies before the age of 18, Webster has carried his burden of proving that he is intellectually disabled and constitutionally ineligible to remain under a death sentence. View "Webster v. Watson" on Justia Law