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Constitution

Defense Secretary Puts President Trump’s Transgender Ban on Hold

In the wake of President Donald Trump's proclamation that openly transgender individuals be discharged from the military, in addition to the lawsuits, there has been some pushback from an unexpected source: the Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis. After sources reported that the general was appalled by the president's proclamation, soon after, he came out with a plan that effectively puts the ban on hold. While socially, and politically, transgender rights are a polarizing and controversial issue, it may not be possible to read anything more than prudence into Mattis's actions. Making a sweeping change like this to the military requires careful planning and assessment. What's Mattis's Hold Up? The general, reportedly, has instituted the hold on implementing the newest ban in order to study the effects and strategically plan how to actually do it (and potentially even whether to do it at all). Although the president, in a series of Tweets, claimed to have met with his generals prior to implementing the ban, no general has corroborated this claim. As such, not only was the general caught off guard, but the new policy's effects had not been studied prior to the implementation. While it may be too soon for those on either side of this issue to celebrate, LGBT advocates are pleased that there is at least some relief from the abruptly announced policy that would have uprooted many people's lives. Constitutional Challenges and Civil Rights Laws The lawsuit by the ACLU that challenges the transgender military ban argues that there is no military basis for the ban. According to the ACLU's complaint, "The Trump Administration has provided no evidence that this pronouncement was based on any analysis of the actual cost and disruption allegedly caused by allowing men and women who are transgender to serve openly."The Trump administration also faces a lawsuit from Lambda Legal that challenges the constitutionality of the transgender ban. Lambda Legal's lawsuit alleges "the Ban and the current accessions bar violate the equal protection and due process guarantees of the Fifth Amendment and the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment," and "are unsupported by any compelling, important, or even rational justification."Although the new administration has taken a position that transgender individuals should not be protected under civil rights laws, there has been a steady trend in the law to protect transgender individuals. The number of states, and even federal courts, that have recognized transgender individuals as belonging to a protected class, and thus protected by civil rights laws, keeps growing. Related Resources: Trump Administration Rescinds Guidance on Bathroom Use for Transgender Students (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) The Rise of Anti-Anti-Discrimination Laws (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) California's Gender Neutral Bathroom Bill (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Here's the Latest on Trump Immigration Reform Efforts (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Does a Lawsuit End If the Defendant Can’t Be Served?

Remember Seth Rogen's character in Pineapple Express? No, he wasn't a butler -- he was a process server, an obscure yet essential part of the legal system tasked with delivering the bad news of a lawsuit to the person being sued. After all, if people don't know they're being haled into court, it's kind of hard to defend themselves. Because service of process is the necessary first step to a lawsuit, many think if they can just avoid the process server for long enough, they can't be sued (hence Rogen's disguises). But is that true? Fruitless Searching The issue has come to the forefront of the news after Montana real estate agent Tanya Gersh sued the owner of the racist website Daily Stormer, claiming he unleashed a "tsunami of threats" against her and her family. Gersh is being represented by attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center, who have thus far been unable to locate and serve Andrew Anglin with the suit. The process servers hired by the SPLC have made a grand total of 15 visits to seven addresses linked to Anglin, including four different Ohio addresses, but couldn't find him. "One process server said she believes Anglin barricaded himself inside one of the addresses," according to Ars Technica. In addition, attempts to serve Anglin via certified mail were all returned as undeliverable. Until he is properly served, the lawsuit against Anglin can't proceed. Constructive Notice But there's another twist to that -- service by publication. If a plaintiff can show the court that no other method of service has been effective, they can publish a notice in a newspaper. So long as the newspaper is in general circulation where the defendant is likely to be found or where the court is located and is published on more than one occasion (like weekly for three weeks), the court will consider the defendant served, whether he or she actually reads the notice or not. Gersh's attorneys have allegedly begun this more cumbersome and expensive procedure already. The perhaps not-so-funny part about the efforts to serve Anglin in this case is that he is plainly aware of the lawsuit. Soon after the lawsuit was filed in April, he published a post on Daily Stormer entitled, "SPLC is Suing Anglin! Donate Now to STOP THESE K***S!" He retained Las Vegas attorney Marc Randazza, who told the AP, "Everybody deserves to have their constitutional rights defended." Randazza also addressed the service problems and accusations that he had ignored calls and emails from SPLC attorneys asking him to accept service on behalf of his client, albeit rather obliquely. "Would you say that touchdowns are avoiding being scored in a shutout football game?" he rhetorically asked the New York Times. "Or would you say that the offense is not scoring them?" A defendant has no legal obligation to assist the plaintiff in a lawsuit, including making themselves available for service. Fortunately for plaintiffs, hiding from a lawsuit they clearly know exists won't help a defendant avoid being held accountable in court. Related Resources: Find a Lawyer Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Don't Bother Avoiding Process Servers (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Legal How-To: Showing Proof of Service (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Can You Serve Someone With a Lawsuit via Twitter? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Here’s the Latest on Trump Immigration Reform Efforts

It's not untrue to say that Donald Trump has had a 'busy' presidency -- the Twitterer-in-Chief has been as active on social media as he has been with executive orders. But many of those orders have been met with litigation and currently stand somewhere in legal limbo between lawsuits filed and Supreme Court review. One of Trump's most active areas of executive authority has been immigration. Here's the latest on Trump's immigration reform efforts, where they stand (legally speaking), and what they could mean. 1. Trump's Travel Ban Headed to Supreme Court Perhaps Trump's most infamous executive order on immigration, and certainly his most litigated one, is the attempted ban on immigrants and refugees from several majority Muslim countries. Blocked by federal circuit courts, rewritten, then blocked again, the Muslim ban is now in the hands of the Supreme Court, although many of the main legal issues may be moot by the time the Court hears oral arguments. 2. 3 Important Facts About Sanctuary Cities for Immigrants and Opponents Trump has also threatened to withhold federal funds from so-called sanctuary jurisdictions -- cities and states that decline to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. It's a legally touchy subject, since immigration is largely a federal matter and there are constitutional protections against federal departments controlling state and local law enforcement, and many of those jurisdictions have sued in response. 3. How Would a 'Merit-Based' System Change Immigration? While battling illegal immigration, Trump also wants to shift the focus of legal immigration from birthplace and family considerations to employment and education qualifications. The president-supported RAISE Act would also slash the number of refugees and visa applicants allowed into the country every year. 4. Mixed Immigration Messages? Trump Administration's Latest on DAPA, Dreamers Trump rescinded Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, last June. But the new president has yet to decide on the old president's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, leaving many apprehensive about their immigration status. 5. Can Undocumented Immigrants Attend Public School? In the meantime, immigrants must go on with their daily lives even though their legal status is uncertain. The Supreme Court has said that public schools can't bar undocumented immigrant children from K-12 education, or charge them extra to attend. If you're unsure about your immigration status or need legal help, contact an experienced immigration attorney in your area. Related Resources: Find Immigration Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Top 7 Immigration Laws for Families (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Trump's Executive Order on Immigration: What Does It Mean When a Judge Issues a 'Stay'? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) What Power Does the President Have Over Deportation Policy? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Arizona Can’t Ban Mexican American Studies in Schools

Generally speaking, courts are fairly deferential to schools on educational matters, except possibly when it comes to race. And while the Supreme Court has major rulings on school desegregation and affirmative action, this might be the first time a federal court has taken up the issue of race in a school district's curriculum. Arizona had passed legislation prohibiting courses "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group," which targeted a decades-long, voluntary Mexican American Studies program for K-12 students in the Tucson Unified School District. But a federal judge ruled the ban was "enacted and enforced with a discriminatory purpose," and is therefore unconstitutional. Racial Animus Judging from local reporting on the ban, it became a personal issue. The Arizona Daily Star reports that Arizona's superintendent of public education at the time, Tom Horne, and former state senator, and Horne's successor John Huppenthal, had it out for the Mexican American Studies program for years, culminating in an alleged blog post comment by Huppenthal comparing the classes to Hitler's rise to power. In 2010, the Arizona Senate passed H.B. 2281, which prohibited a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses that: "Promote the overthrow of the United States government," "Promote resentment toward a race or class of people," "Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group," or "Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals." Racial Motivations In a scathing opinion, Judge A. Wallace Tashima determined officials "were motivated by racial animus" and were pushing "discriminatory ends in order to make political gains." Tashima ruled that the ban violated students' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by denying them the "right to receive information and ideas" and discrimination against Latinos, respectively. "Having thus ruled out any pedagogical motivation," Tashima wrote, "the Court is convinced that decisions regarding the MAS program were motivated by a desire to advance a political agenda by capitalizing on race-based fears." The court will hear arguments regarding what remedies to take in the coming weeks. Related Resources: Arizona Law Outlawing Mexican-American Studies Ruled Unconstitutional (AZ Central) Teachers: How to Talk to Students About Privilege, Legally (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) MN Students Sue School District Over Gay Policy (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Banned Books Week: Can Schools Ban Books? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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ACLU, Lambda Legal Sue Trump Over Transgender Military Ban

Over the course of three tweets last month, President Donald Trump expressed his intent to ban transgender people from serving in the military. The White House made that intent official on Friday, issuing a Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security "prohibit[ing] openly transgender individuals from accession into the United States military and authoriz[ing] the discharge of such individuals. And it didn't take long for the lawsuits to follow. Both the ACLU and Lambda Legal have sued Donald Trump and his Secretary of Defense James Mattis, claiming the ban is unconstitutional and "compromises the safety and security of our country." Animus Trump's memo reverses Obama-era guidance allowing transgender individuals to openly serve in the military and allowing defense funds to cover sex-reassignment surgery. The ban would remain in place "until such time as a sufficient basis exists upon which to conclude that terminating that policy and practice would not have the negative effects discussed above." In the memo, Trumps says, "The Secretary of Defense ... may advise me at any time, in writing, that a change to this policy is warranted," but that recommendation for change must be something that "I find convincing." The ACLU claims there is no military basis for the ban: The Trump Administration has provided no evidence that this pronouncement was based on any analysis of the actual cost and disruption allegedly caused by allowing men and women who are transgender to serve openly. News reports indicate that the Secretary of Defense and other military officials were surprised by President Trump's announcement and that his actual motivations were purely political, reflecting a desire to accommodate legislators and advisers who bear animus and moral disapproval toward men and women who are transgender, with a goal of gaining votes for a spending bill that included money to build a border wall with Mexico. Amicus The claims may bear some truth. Mattis was reportedly caught off guard by Trump's tweets, and sources say he was "appalled." Lambda Legal's suit alleges "the Ban and the current accessions bar violate the equal protection and due process guarantees of the Fifth Amendment and the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment," and "are unsupported by any compelling, important, or even rational justification." This is not the first time Trump has been sued over an executive order or memo -- there are now at least three lawsuits regarding the transgender military ban alone -- and will likely not be the last. Related Resources: Find Civil Rights Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Military Transgender Ban to Begin Within 6 Months, Memo Says (The New York Times) Transgender Service Members Sue Trump Over Military Ban Tweets (FindLaw's Courtside) Trump Administration Rescinds Guidance on Bathroom Use for Transgender Students (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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How to Fact Check Legal Issues in the News

It seems like every big news story has a legal angle. What are the limits for free speech when it comes to racism and public demonstrations? Can the president do anything he wants when it comes to immigration, and are courts allowed to stop him? What is a grand jury subpoena? Knowing the nuts and bolts of the laws underlying these controversies may affect how we view them, but not all of us have law school degrees, so how do we assess the legal assertions made in news coverage of the biggest stories? Lucky for us, we have the American Bar Association, who just launched their Legal Fact Check website, designed to "separate legal fact from fiction." Fact and Fiction The site quotes late U.S. senator Daniel Moynihan, who said: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." But in the era of fake news, media bias, and everyone screaming on Facebook and Twitter, those facts can be hard to come by. Especially when the topics are as controversial (and potentially esoteric) as free speech, affirmative action, and the separation of governmental powers. "In a world with multiple sources of information, it is often difficult to distinguish between fact and opinion," said new ABA president Hilarie Bass. "Through our new ABA Legal Fact Check, the American Bar Association will use case and statutory law and other legal precedents to help set the record straight by providing the real facts about the law." Find Legal Facts While Legal Fact Check is still getting off the ground, it's already tackling topics like "whether individuals can be punished for burning the American flag" and "who has the constitutional authority to redraw U.S. Circuit Courts and offer explanations on the power of presidential pardons and hate speech." As it expands, the ABA's site will no doubt be one of the best resources for the legal background on the day's hot-button topics. Until then, you can also peruse the pages of FindLaw's Learn About the Law section, as well as our Legal Blogs, which cover breaking news and backgrounds legal issues relating to criminal, personal injury, and small business law as well as everyday legal issues. And we can also put you in touch with a good lawyer should you need help. Related Resources: ABA Creates Fact Checker Website For Legal Issues in the News (Bloomberg Law) What Power Does the President Have Over Deportation Policy? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Can the President Make Flag Burning Illegal? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Facebook 'Hate Speech': Is It Free Speech? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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Is Mooning Someone Illegal?

Perhaps you just meant it as a prank among friends. Or maybe you were really mad and meant to insult a neighbor. Does that intent matter under state laws on indecent exposure? Do your bare buttocks count as "genitals" under state statutes? Here's what you need to know about mooning and indecent exposure laws. No Ifs, Ands, or Butts Most indecent exposure laws, like California's for instance, require intent by the exposing party to sexually arouse, or sexually insult or offend. The Golden State statute broadly makes it a crime to willfully expose your genitals to someone else, motivated by a desire to sexually gratify yourself or offend or insult the other person. So if you're not trying to offend or insult someone with your bared buttocks, you're probably alright. Even if you are trying to get a rise out of someone, the law also only applies to exposing one's genitals. Most courts have ruled that showing a bare female breast is not considered exposing your genitals, thus protecting breastfeeding mothers from prosecution on indecent exposure charges. So as long as you're showing your butt, and only your butt, it generally will not constitute indecent exposure under most indecent exposure statutes, including California's. Cheeky Free Speech In 2006, a Maryland court similarly determined that indecent exposure relates only to exposure of the genitals, noting that even if mooning is a "disgusting" and "demeaning" act, it was not illegal. "If exposure of half of the buttocks constituted indecent exposure," the court held, "any woman wearing a thong at the beach at Ocean City would be guilty." The Maryland court also held that mooning is a form of speech, protected by the First Amendment. Relying on a 1983 case where a woman was arrested for wearing nothing but a cardboard sign that only covered the front of her body during a protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, the court ruled the man could not be guilty of indecent exposure, even if the mooning took place in front of a mother and her 8-year-old daughter. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) BofA Exec Can't Moon His Boss and Keep His Job, IL Court Rules (FindLaw's Legally Weird) Foxy Brown Cleared of 'Mooning' Charges: Witness Refused to Testify (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) State Indecent Exposure Laws (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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Top Legal Questions About the President’s Power

There were certainly questions about presidential power during Barack Obama's presidency, especially when it came to Obamacare and his executive actions on gun control. But those questions have reached a fever pitch under President Donald Trump, as he has attempted to remake the presidency in his own image. So what are the limits on the president's power, if any? 1. Can President Trump Change the Constitution? As a candidate, Trump proposed quite a few constitutional amendments. Now that he's president, can he make them happen? Even though a president can't unilaterally change the text of the Constitution, he can direct executive agencies in their interpretation and enforcement of its provisions. 2. What Power Does the President Have Over Deportation Policy? There are reports of immigration officials pulling undocumented persons out of hospitals. Is this a new practice? And how much impact can President Trump have on choosing who to deport and why? 3. Can the President Really Curb Speech of Federal Agencies? Trump's White House issued directives to several federal agencies, looking to limit public statements and social media posts regarding matters that the previous administration supported. But do those orders violate federal employees' First Amendment rights? 4. Ethics Rules for White House Employees There are strict ethics rules regulating what government officials should do when they have a personal financial interest in a certain business or industry, generally requiring the official to disclose their interest and recuse themselves from work where there could be a conflict of interest. But the Trump administration appears to be playing fast and loose with those rules. 5. Can Trump Cancel the Iran Deal? Previous President Barack Obama's administration brokered a historic nuclear agreement with Iran in 2015, an accord current President Donald Trump has called "the stupidest deal of all time." Does that mean the current administration can back out of the deal? Related Resources: Find Civil Rights Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Trump's First Week as President (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Do Restrictions on Protests Violate the Constitution? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Trump's New Travel Ban Blocked Like the Old Travel Ban (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
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Is the President Immune From Defamation Lawsuits?

Before he was President Donald Trump, he was host of the reality TV series "The Apprentice" Donald Trump. But his actions then may come back to legally haunt him now. Summer Zervos, a former "Apprentice" contestant, is suing the president, claiming his denials of her sexual harassment claims amounted to defamation. But Trump's attorneys are planning to argue that the president is immune from this and other civil lawsuits while he remains in office. Is that argument going to work? Defamatory Statements Zervos appeared on Trump's TV show in 2006, and was seeking a job with the Trump Organization when the president allegedly groped her breast and began to kiss her aggressively against her will. Trump denied the allegations, calling them a "total fabrication" and a "hoax," while calling Zervos a "phony" and labeling other women making similar claims of sexual harassment "liars." Zervos then sued in New York state court, claiming Trump's attack caused her emotional distress and lost business, and that Trump knew his denials of her allegations were defamatory, because he knew the truth of their interactions and "engaged regularly in this kind of unwanted sexual touching for years, and that was, in fact, how he treated women routinely and how he lived his life." Defamation, legally speaking, refers to any false statement that hurts someone's reputation. In order to win a defamation lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that someone made a statement, the statement was published, the statement caused an injury, the statement was false, and the statement did not fall into a privileged category. Presidential Immunity Bill Clinton attempted to mount the same immunity defense when he was sued by Paula Jones for sexual harassment. Back then, the Supreme Court ruled that litigation against a sitting president can proceed if it is over conduct unrelated to his public office. While conceding that point generally, Trump's attorneys are asking for deference in scheduling and for the court to stay the lawsuit until after Trump's presidency. Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz also wrote: "Defendant Donald J. Trump, the President of the United States, intends to file a motion to dismiss this action on the ground, among others, that the United States Constitution, including the Supremacy Clause contained therein, immunizes the President from being sued in state court while in office." As the Washington Post points out, this issue of presidential immunity in state courts remains unresolved, as the Paula Jones case involved federal sexual harassment claims. So while the president might not be immune to defamation claims, those claims may need to be filed in federal court. In an interesting twist to the case against Trump, one of the lawyers who successfully argued against Clinton's immunity was George T. Conway III, husband of Trump aide Kellyanne Conway and nominated by Trump to lead the Justice Department's civil division. Related Resources: Find Defamation Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Trump Claims Immunity From 'Apprentice' Contestant's Lawsuit (USA Today) Do You Know How Slander, Libel and Defamation are Different? (FindLaw's Injured) Is It Worth Suing for Defamation to Protect Your Reputation? (FindLaw's Injured)
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Christina Swarns argues racial bias before U.S. Supreme Court

Christina Swarns, director of Litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc. argued Buck v. Davis before the United States Supreme Court in October of this year. Buck is a case which involved the Fifth Circuit’s denial of a Certificate of Appealability (COA) to a Texas death row inmate on his death sentence appeal based on the argument that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for knowingly presenting a defense expert who testified that Buck’s identity as a black man increased the likelihood of his future dangerousness (likeliness of future dangerousness is a factor used in Texas courts to justify the death penalty over life in prison). It of course defies all logic why Buck’s counsel would have called a witness to provide this testimony, but such illogical and self-destructive tactics lay at the heart of Buck’s ineffective counsel argument. What made the denial of the COA so egregious was that the state of Texas had, in 2000, released a statement indicating that it would not object to death penalty appeals made on the basis of this exact expert’s testimony (notably, all of the other appeals had been based on the prosecution’s use of the “expert,” making the defense’s use of the expert all the more bewildering). Yet, during the argument before the Supreme Court the Solicitor General for Texas tried to distinguish that assurance between cases where the State called the expert versus when the defense had called the expert. That argument didn’t appear to be persuasive, as having your own attorney introduce such racially charged and damaging evidence would certainly seem to support an ineffective assistance of counsel argument. By all accounts the Justices seemed inclined to rule in Buck’s favor, with even Justice Alito commenting that the use of the testimony was “indefensible.” While the arguments and pending decision in Buck are highly relevant to those who work in the defense bar, what was also highly notable about Swarns’ argument in Buck was that it was one of very few occasions that a black woman has argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. Over the history of this country, those attorneys arguing before the Supreme Court have usually been white and usually been men. But this once highly exclusive club is changing, albeit slowly. Diversity in the highest court both on and in front of the bench continues to be an aspirational goal, and Swarns’ argument in October is a great step forward. Christina Swarns is an inspiring example to all female attorneys and attorneys of color desiring to help in the cause of justice. Swarns started out at the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan, and then began dedicating herself to death-penalty work at the capital unit of the Philadelphia Federal Community Defender’s Office. She later joined the Legal Defense Fund, first as Director of the Criminal Justice Project in 2003. In 2014, Swarms became the organization’s Director of Litigation. Swarns is considered a national expert on death penalty and race and speaks throughout the country on the issue. She was profiled in an ABA article titled Lady of Last Chance as well as in the Washington Post. In 2014, Christina was selected by the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School to be an Honorary Fellow in Residence, an honor given to an attorney who makes “significant contributions to the ends of justice at the cost of great personal risk and sacrifice.” Christina Swarns is an attorney whose ongoing dedication to living out a commitment to public service on behalf of defendants makes her a true champion of justice. The post Christina Swarns argues racial bias before U.S. Supreme Court appeared first on Women Criminal Defense Attorneys.
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