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September 13, 2019

The Rutherford Institute is challenging the police practice of stopping cars registered to unlicensed owners, whether or not the owners are behind the wheel (such vehicles are often driven by licensed family members and friends) and in the absence of specific wrongdoing. In an amicus curiae brief filed with the Supreme Court in State of Kansas v. Glover, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that allowing police to stop a vehicle anytime the registered owner is unlicensed gives police too much leeway to violate the standards established by the Fourth Amendment requiring particularized and articulable evidence that the specific individual being stopped has, is, or soon will be engaged in unlawful conduct.

September 05, 2019

Pushing back against the expansion of secret government surveillance programs at the expense of individual privacy, The Rutherford Institute is asking the State of Illinois to disclose information about its participation in the federal government’s scheme to establish a massive facial recognition database by collecting the drivers’ license photographs of millions of Americans. In a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, The Rutherford Institute is seeking details about the federal government’s facial recognition program, which allows government agents to track citizens whenever they are in public. The request comes after it was disclosed in July 2019 that the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have mined information kept by state DMVs to create a massive database of biometric photos and personal information without the consent of citizens.

August 29, 2019

Pushing back against efforts to sidestep the rule of law and disregard fundamental protections for the rights of the accused, The Rutherford Institute has asked a federal appeals court to prohibit government officials from undermining the Sixth Amendment’s assurance of the right to legal counsel. In a joint amicus brief filed in Federal Defenders of N.Y. v. Federal Bureau of Prisons before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, The Rutherford Institute, the ACLU and the Constitutional Accountability Center have come to the defense of public defenders prevented from meeting with jailed clients awaiting trial in New York City.

August 23, 2019

Denouncing the many failings of America’s capital punishment system, a consistently unjust, error-bound system plagued by racial prejudice, economic inequality and prosecutorial misconduct, The Rutherford Institute is challenging the death sentence and lengthy solitary confinement of a Texas inmate whose sentence was impacted by racial bias, mental incompetence and systemic injustice. In filing an amicus curiae brief in Saldaño v. Davis, Rutherford Institute attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the sentence of Texas death row inmate Victor Hugo Saldaño. Saldaño, sentenced to death based on an expert witness’ racist testimony suggesting that Hispanics pose a greater danger to society than other individuals, was subsequently subjected to eights years of solitary confinement for up to 22 hours a day, which attorneys argue is psychologically stressful treatment tantamount to physical torture.

August 19, 2019

The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hold a U.S. Border Patrol agent accountable for shooting and killing a young Mexican boy who was playing in a culvert within feet of U.S. territory and posed no threat to anyone. The brief urges the Supreme Court to reinstate the excessive force lawsuit against a Border Patrol agent (a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil) for shooting 15-year-old Sergio Hernandez (a Mexican national) in the head.

August 09, 2019

Pushing back against the idea that the application of fundamental constitutional rights is dependent on what state you live in, The Rutherford Institute is calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent the states from “watering down” the rights of criminal defendants. In an amicus brief filed in Ramos v. State of Louisiana, attorneys with The Rutherford Institute have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to make the requirement of a unanimous jury in criminal cases—a right dating back to the Magna Carta—uniform throughout the United States. The brief asserts that the Bill of Rights, specifically the Sixth Amendment, requires unanimous jury verdicts at the federal level, a judicial standard which should apply at the state level, also. The case arose after a Louisiana man, Evangelisto Ramos, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison based on circumstantial evidence that failed to convince two of his 12 jurors that he was guilty. At the time, Louisiana and Oregon were the only states that allowed non-unanimous verdicts in criminal cases.

August 07, 2019

The Rutherford Institute has filed a First Amendment lawsuit against government officials for discriminating against Protestant Christian inmates at a state-run sex offender rehabilitation facility and restricting their access to Bible studies and Protestant communion. In a complaint filed in federal court against the Commonwealth of Virginia and the director of the Virginia Center for Behavioral and Rehabilitation (VCBR), Rutherford Institute attorneys allege that VCBR violated First Amendment and federal and state statutes protecting the religious exercise of institutionalized persons when facility administrators restricted Protestant residents’ ability to celebrate communion and hold a weekly Protestant Bible study while at the same time accommodating the religious beliefs of Catholic and Muslim inmates to participate in their respective religious services.

July 26, 2019

In a reiterated rebuke to the practice of subjecting prisoners to solitary confinement, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed an earlier ruling by a panel of judges, which found that a Virginia prison violated the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment by confining death row inmates to parking-space sized cells in virtual isolation. In rejecting the Commonwealth of  Virginia’s request for a rehearing en banc, the Fourth Circuit let stand the ruling by a panel of judges that conditions at Sussex I State Prison were “dehumanizing” and ordered prison officials to make permanent changes mitigating the conditions, including allowing death row inmates to have contact visits with family and opportunities for recreational and religious activities. The Rutherford Institute and American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed an amicus brief with the appeals court in Porter v. Clarke urging it to uphold an injunction against prison officials, arguing that a binding court order was necessary to ensure that state officials abide by the court’s ruling on the inmates’ Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel punishment and to prevent the harsh conditions of isolation being re-imposed upon the prisoners.

July 22, 2019

Denouncing bureaucratic overregulation, The Rutherford Institute has issued a legal challenge to Kentucky regulators who have prohibited a religious ministry from holding free eye clinics and distributing free corrective eyeglasses to the poor and homeless. Kendall Optometry Ministry—a charity whose mission is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ by providing eyeglasses to the poor and homeless throughout the world—hosts free eye clinics for the poor and homeless where it distributes used and new glasses, all of which have been carefully measured for their corrective properties and catalogued. The Kentucky Boards of Optometric Examiners and Ophthalmic Dispensers has ordered the ministry to stop holding free eye clinics and offering free eyeglasses because the glasses provided are not new and made to order. In coming to the defense of Kendall Optometry Ministry, Rutherford Institute attorneys have warned state board officials that their attempts to shut down the ministry violate a state law protecting religious freedom.

July 15, 2019

Pushing back against the expansion of secret government surveillance programs and the chilling impact they have on lawful First Amendment activities, The Rutherford Institute is demanding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) disclose the details of a government program proposed by DHS in April 2018 that aims to track, monitor, catalogue and mine content posted by social media “influencers.” In filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Rutherford Institute attorneys are asking for all records relating to a “Media Monitoring Services” surveillance program that would create a “media influencer database” for content created and posted by journalists, editors, social media influencers, and bloggers.  The Institute is asking for records and information on the program because of the chilling effect it will have on the First Amendment activities of the citizens targeted by the program.

July 10, 2019

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has agreed to withdraw a fine against a Texas man who, after successfully passing through an airport security metal detector and then being randomly selected to pass through a whole-body imaging scanner, chose not to board a flight rather than be subjected to a third search—an invasive pat-down—by TSA agents. Jonathan Cobb was fined $2,660 by the TSA and charged with “interfering” with airport screening after he politely refused, based on past traumatic experiences with the TSA, to be subjected to a pat-down search at George W. Bush International Airport and opted instead not to board his ticketed flight. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute came to Cobb’s defense, challenging the $2660 fine as excessive and arguing that Cobb had a Fourth Amendment right to opt out of the search and elect not to travel.

July 08, 2019

In a victory for the right to freedom of expression under the First Amendment, especially as it relates to political expression, county officials in one Virginia locality have agreed to temporarily suspend their enforcement of ordinances limiting the display of political signs to a 60-day period preceding an election. Officials with Fluvanna County have agreed to not enforce its time limit on campaign signs while it reviews First Amendment concerns raised by The Rutherford Institute that the sign restrictions discriminate against political speech. In a June 26 letter, Institute attorneys pointed out that the County’s regulations on the display of political signs, which impose no similar time limitations on other signs without political messages, discriminate against political speech in violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee to freedom of speech.

July 01, 2019

The Rutherford Institute is challenging a Virginia sign regulation that discriminates against political speech as it relates to campaign signs. In a letter to Fluvanna County officials, Rutherford Institute attorneys point out that the County’s regulations on the display of political signs, which limit the display of political signs to a 60-day period preceding an election while imposing no similar time limitations on other signs without political messages, violate the First Amendment’s guarantee to freedom of speech.

June 27, 2019

In a ruling that gives police greater leeway to violate the Fourth Amendment rights of anyone driving on a public road, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police may forcibly and warrantlessly carry out blood draws on unconscious drivers suspected of drunk driving. The Court’s 5-4 decision in Mitchell v. State of Wisconsin found that an unconscious driver suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol constitutes an emergency situation that allows police to ignore the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement and draw blood from that suspect without consent or a warrant, regardless of whether there is an opportunity to obtain a warrant. In an amicus brief filed in the case, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute had argued that “implied consent” laws—which suggest that merely driving on a state-owned road implies that a person has consented to police sobriety tests, breathalyzers and blood draws—should not be used as a means of allowing police to bypass fundamental Fourth Amendment protections for privacy and bodily integrity.

June 24, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the government’s claim that it can censor speech it considers distasteful, striking down as unconstitutional a federal statute that allows the government to reject trademark applications for “immoral” or “scandalous” brand names. In its ruling in Iancu v. Brunetti, the Supreme Court found that the government violated the First Amendment when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected as immoral or scandalous a trademark application for streetwear brand “FUCT” (an acronym for “FRIENDS U CAN’T TRUST”) that serves as artist Erik Brunetti’s commentary on the need to challenge government authority and societal assumptions. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute had filed an amicus brief challenging the statute on the grounds that it violates the most fundamental First Amendment guarantees by investing the government with the power to act as an arbiter of good taste and censor speech it finds offensive or with which it disagrees. The ruling follows on the heels of a 2017 ruling in Matal v. Tam in which the Court rejected an attempt by the government to censor trademark names that might cause offense (namely, in the case of The Slants, an Asian-American rock band). The ruling is also expected to positively impact the Washington Redskins’ effort to protect their trademark, which was revoked under the same “immoral or scandalous” law.

June 20, 2019

In a 7-2 decision recognizing that a 40-foot “Peace Cross” memorial is not only a religious symbol but a national landmark that honors all veterans for their sacrifices for the country, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution does not require removal of the Maryland memorial was erected 90 years ago in Veterans Memorial Park to honor soldiers who were killed or wounded in World War I. The Court’s decision in Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Society echoed arguments made in an amicus brief filed by The Rutherford Institute in support of the Peace Cross that removal would signal an improper hostility to religion that has manifested itself in efforts to remove any references to God or religion from public places.

June 18, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to protect citizens from being prosecuted for the same crime by federal and state governments, a fundamental right enshrined in the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause. In a 7-2 ruling in Gamble v. United States, the Supreme Court affirmed the “separate sovereigns” rule, an exception to the Double Jeopardy doctrine that allows states and the federal government to prosecute a person successive times for the same act, even if the person is found not guilty in the first trial. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Neil Gorsuch dissented, warning that the Court’s majority had failed to recognize that the people—not the government—should be the ultimate sovereigns of power. The Rutherford Institute filed an amicus brief in Gamble, arguing that the “separate sovereigns” doctrine exception—which recognizes federal and state governments as separate sovereigns with distinct prosecutorial powers—violates the Fifth Amendment by enabling the government to abuse its power to prosecute, which is reflected the nation’s harsh and overly-punitive criminal justice system.

June 13, 2019

The Rutherford Institute has asked a federal appeals court to safeguard the right of citizens and journalists to record police in public without fear of retaliation. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that the First Amendment protects the right of citizens to make audio or video recordings of public law enforcement activities. The brief in Frasier v. Evans was filed in support of Colorado resident Levi Frasier, who sued Denver police for violating his civil rights after he was detained, questioned, and threatened with arrest in an effort to force him to turn over a video he captured of the police violently punching and head-slamming a suspect.

June 03, 2019

The Rutherford Institute is sounding the alarm over so-called “school safety” legislation passed by the Texas legislature that requires schools to form “threat assessment teams” to identify students who are deemed suicide risks and refer those students to mental health authorities. In signing onto a letter by 130 organizations asking Governor Greg Abbott to veto Texas S.B. 11, H.B. 18 and H.B. 19, which require schools to form “threat assessment teams” and establish a state-wide network of child psychiatric centers that could unfairly label children as mentally ill, the Institute and its coalition partners warn that the laws could be used as a Trojan Horse to allow pharmaceutical companies to push anti-psychotic drugs on children and empower schools to override parental decisions regarding the counseling and treatment of their children on issues of suicide and mental health.

May 30, 2019

In a setback to First Amendment rights, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a ruling protecting police from lawsuits by persons arrested on bogus “contempt of cop” charges (ranging from resisting arrest and interference to disorderly conduct, obstruction, and failure to obey a police order) that result from lawful First Amendment activities (filming police, asking a question of police, refusing to speak with police). In Nieves v. Bartlett, the Court ruled 6-3 to dismiss the case of Russell Bartlett, an Alaska resident who was arrested after he refused to be interrogated by police and intervened after police attempted to question other people. Although the Court recognized that people have a right to be free from a retaliatory arrest over lawful First Amendment activities, it ruled that if police have probable cause for the arrest, the person cannot sue for a free speech violation unless they can show that someone else was not arrested for the same actions. Filing an amicus brief in Nieves, The Rutherford Institute warned that overcriminalization makes it easy for police to weaponize the legal code in order to retaliate against individuals they perceive are challenging their authority.