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voteStudents who challenged the state’s monster voting law in court have filed a notice of appeal of U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder’s August 8 ruling denying a stay of that law, pending the November elections.

Their filing yesterday is here.

Stay tuned for more.

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Gun violenceBuying a gun for someone else while claiming on federal forms to be the intended owner is a crime, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in a 5-4 decision.

“We hold that such a misrepresentation is punishable under the statute, whether or not the true buyer could have purchased the gun without the straw,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority in Abramski v. U.S., joined by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The case before the court involved a purchase by a former police officer who, when buying  a Glock 19 handgun for his uncle, falsely claimed that he would be the actual owner of the gun.

In a challenge to his subsequent indictment and conviction, the officer claimed that his misrepresentation was immaterial because his uncle met the legal requirements to own a gun and that in any event, a false response about the gun buyer is never a violation of the law, regardless of whether the intended true owner is or is not eligible to buy a gun.

The majority on the court rejected those arguments, affirming the Fourth Circuit. Justice Kagan wrote:

Contrary to his contention, the information [the question] requests —“[a]re you the actual transferee/buyer[?]” or, put conversely, “are [you] acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person[?]”— is relevant to the lawfulness of a gun sale. That is because, for all the reasons we have given, the firearms law contemplates that the dealer will check not the fictitious purchaser’s but instead the true purchaser’s identity and eligibility for gun ownership. By concealing that [the uncle] was the actual buyer, [the straw purchaser] prevented the dealer from transacting with [the uncle] face-to-face, recording his name, age, and residence, inspecting his photo ID, submitting his identifying information to the background check system, and determining whether he was prohibited from receiving a firearm. In sum, [the straw] thwarted application of essentially all of the firearms law’s requirements. We can hardly think of a misrepresentation any more material to a sale’s legality.

For more on the decision, read the analysis by Scotusblog’s  Lyle Denniston here.

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This morning a panel of three judges on the 4th U.S. Court of AppealsPaul V. Niemeyer (presiding at the argument), Roger L. Gregory and Henry F. Floyd — will hear arguments in the same-sex marriage case out of Virginia, Bostic v. Schaefer.  In February 2014, U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen ruled that the state’s 2006 ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Niemeyer got his start on the federal bench as a U.S. District Judge in 1988, after his appointment by President Ronald Reagan, and ascended to the Fourth Circuit in 1990 via President George H.W. Bush.  Gregory, the first African American to sit on the Fourth Circuit, was originally a Clinton recess appointee who was then reappointed by President George W. Bush. Floyd was initially appointed the U.S. District Court in South Carolina by President George W. Bush in 2003 and then to the Fourth Circuit by President Barack Obama in 2011.

A recording of the argument will be available after 2 p.m. at this link.

At the same time, a different panel will hear argument in the case concerning the fate of the Bonner Bridge on the Outer Banks, Defenders of  Wildlife v. N.C. Dep’t of Transportation.  In September 2013, U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan ruled that North Carolina could move forward with a newly-conceived plan which Defenders of Wildlife and other environmental groups say is short-sighted and environmentally unsound.

The judges hearing the Bonner Bridge appeal are Allyson K. Duncan, James A. Wynn Jr. and J. Michelle Childs (sitting by designation from South Carolina). Duncan, a Durham, N.C. native, was appointed to the Fourth Circuit by President George W. Bush in 2003 to the seat vacated by Samuel J. Ervin III, and is the first African American woman to sit on the court.  Wynn, also a North Carolina native, served on the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court before his appointment to the Fourth Circuit by President Barack Obama in 2010, the same year the President also appointed Childs to the court.

On an unrelated note, late last week the President nominated Pamela Harris to serve on the Fourth Circuit, filling the Maryland slot left open when U.S. Circuit Judge Andre Davis took senior status at the end of February.

Read more about Harris here.

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In a decision released today, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond held that the public and press right of access to court records trumps a corporation’s desire to keep quiet complaints about one of its products — regardless of whether those complaints are inaccurate or unfounded.

“Public access serves to promote trustworthiness of the judicial process, to curb judicial abuses, and to provide the public with a more complete understanding of the judicial system, including a better perception of fairness,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Henry F. Floyd in Public Citizen v. Company Doe.

The court reversed a lower court ruling and ordered the unsealing of the entire record of a case that originated from an effort by a manufacturer to prevent the Consumer Product Safety Commission from publishing a negative report about one of the company’s products.

As described in an earlier NC Policy Watch story about the lower court proceedings:

In October, a manufacturer sued the CPSC to stop the agency from posting a negative report about one of its products. At the same time, the company asked to proceed under a pseudonym and to have the entire case litigated under seal. Consumer groups and the media objected to both requests, claiming that the public had a right to know the identity of the company and the facts underlying the case.

The court didn’t rule on that objection until July 2012, by which time the case had been secretly and fully litigated.  [The lower court judge] held that the subject report was inaccurate and should be withheld; that the company could litigate as “Company Doe”; that the case could proceed under seal; and that the objecting groups could not overturn his seal order.  He also found that the potential harm to the company’s reputation outweighed the right of access to judicial records and justified his decisions in the case.

The advocacy group Public Citizen, one of the organizations leading the charge for disclosure, called the decision “a resounding victory for both the First Amendment right of access to court records and for consumers.”

Not only will the decision stand as a bulwark against the type of secret litigation that occurred in this case, it will also help ensure the efficacy of the CPSC database by preventing companies from litigating challenges to individual CPSC reports through years of secret litigation — a practice that, if permitted, would have undermined the goal of providing timely information to consumers through the database.

The identity of Company Doe will be disclosed once the case is sent back to district court.

Read the full decision here.

 

 

 

 

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Judge Andre Davis of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stepped down from active service on the bench on February 28.

Davis, the youngest of three Maryland-based judges on the court, is eligible for senior status upon turning 65 because he has served as an Article III judge since becoming a U.S. District Judge in 1995. He is the first of six Obama appointees to that court to take the step, which creates a new Maryland vacancy to be filled by the president.

The Fourth Circuit has had a full complement of 15 judges since Obama’s last appointment in 2012, West Virginia’s Stephanie D. Thacker.

Judge Davis was born in Baltimore, Md., in 1949. He was initially appointed to the U.S. District Court there by President Clinton in 1995 and then to the Fourth Circuit by President Obama in 2009. 

Davis is the first and only African American to represent Maryland on the Fourth Circuit, which includes Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the Carolinas.  He was also the first African American nominated by President Obama to a federal judgeship and one of nine African American circuit court judges appointed by the president nationwide.

A native of Baltimore, Andre Davis graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law and clerked for Maryland District Judge Frank Kaufman and Fourth Circuit Judge Francis Murnaghan.  Davis worked as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, taught at the University of Maryland School of Law, and served as a judge for nearly a decade on Maryland’s state trial courts.       

“We are indebted to Judge Davis for his extraordinary service on Maryland’s state and federal courts,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. “Judge Davis played a historic role in diversifying Maryland’s federal appellate bench, and he made enormous contributions to that court’s jurisprudence.  He is held in the highest regard by the communities served by the court, his colleagues on the bench, and all who appeared before him.”

Ifill and the LDF joined other civil rights organizations in a letter urging President Obama to “ensure that Maryland’s racial diversity continues to be reflected on Maryland’s federal appellate court.”