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April 27, 2017
Constitutional Q&A: Knock-and-Talk Police Tactics

Warning against the coercive use of “knock and talks” by police as a means of sidestepping the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against warrantless, unreasonable searches, The Rutherford Institute has issued constitutional guidelines to alert the public to this aggressive, increasingly popular police tactic and what Americans can do to preserve their constitutional rights. In the wake of court rulings that allow police to make surprise, late-night “visits” to homes, purportedly for the purpose of “talking” with residents, the use of “knock and talks” by law enforcement agencies has exploded, with some police departments establishing squads dedicated to conducting “knock and talks.” 

March 29, 2017
Constitutional Q&A: The Legality of Stop and ID Procedures

Responding to the government’s increasing aggression in demanding to interrogate and search American citizens and noncitizens alike who are suspected of no criminal conduct and are doing nothing more than exercising their constitutional right to travel in public, The Rutherford Institute has issued constitutional guidelines on the extent to which may police stop individuals and demand that they identify themselves. In issuing the guidelines, Rutherford Institute attorneys point out that police “stop and ID” tactics, which in some instances include attempts to search cellphones and obtain access to social media accounts, violate the inherent right of people to move from place to place without government harassment and without fear of being monitored. 

April 21, 2017
The Rutherford Institute's Amicus Brief: Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission of Virginia v. Rudolph Bumgardner, III, and Humes J. Franklin, Jr.

The Rutherford Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union have asked the Virginia Supreme Court to protect the First Amendment rights of judges to educate the public about apolitical matters relating to the administration of justice. In an amicus brief filed with the court, Rutherford Institute and ACLU attorneys argued that Judges Rudolph Bumgardner III and Humes J. Franklin, Jr., did not violate an ethics rule forbidding judges from engaging in certain “political activity” when they spoke publicly about the problems that would result if the Augusta County Courthouse was moved to Verona, Virginia.

April 20, 2017
The Rutherford Institute's Letter to Attorney General Sessions

Denouncing a plan by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to increase the flow of military equipment to police and have the Justice Department cease its oversight of police misconduct, The Rutherford Institute warned that if the federal government persists in its pursuit of policies that ignore systemic problems within local law enforcement agencies at the expense of the safety and constitutional rights of the American people, “we the people” will all suffer. In a letter to the Attorney General, constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead urged Sessions to align the Justice Department’s priorities with that of the Constitution and, in doing so, not only protect the civil rights of citizens against abuse of power by state and local law enforcement but also “help police departments get better” by holding them fully accountable to the rule of law.

March 31, 2017
Opinion in Thomas Porter v. Harold W. Clarke

Finding that the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) could not be trusted to permanently change “dehumanizing” conditions at its “Death Row” prison, a federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit by prisoners who claim their confinement in oppressive isolation constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. In asking the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute, working in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that tactical policy changes adopted by VDOC in order to sidestep court-mandated legal obligations (the practice of “tactical mooting”) would leave prisoners at greater risk of having harsh conditions re-imposed upon them.

March 24, 2017
Ruling in Amy Young, et al. v. Gary S. Borders, et al.

According to a federal appeals court, police will not be held accountable for banging on the wrong door at 1:30 am, failing to identify themselves as police, and then repeatedly shooting and killing the innocent homeowner who answered the door while holding a gun in self-defense. Although 26-year-old Andrew Scott had committed no crime and never fired a single bullet or lifted his firearm against police, he was gunned down by police who were investigating a speeding incident by engaging in a middle-of-the-night “knock and talk” in Scott’s apartment complex.

March 16, 2017
Opinions in State of Kansas v. Cameron Howard

Declaring that motorists who recline their car seats are guilty of suspicious behavior, the Kansas Supreme Court has given police the green light to carry out warrantless searches of cars in which the seats are in a reclined position and plastic baggies are visible.

March 10, 2017
Justice Thomas' Opinion in Lisa Olivia Leonard v. Texas

In refusing to hear a challenge to Texas’ asset forfeiture law, the U.S. Supreme Court is allowing Texas police to keep $201,000 in cash primarily on the basis that the seized cash—the proceeds of a home sale—was being transported on a highway associated with illegal drug trade, despite any proof of illegal activity by the owner. Asset forfeiture laws, which have come under intense scrutiny and criticism in recent years, allow the police to seize property “suspected” of being connected to criminal activity without having to prove the owner of the property is guilty of a criminal offense. Lisa Leonard, the owner of the $201,000, had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to compel Texas to return her money, given that she was innocent of any crime. In a written opinion that denounced the profit incentives that drive asset forfeiture schemes, Justice Clarence Thomas concluded, “This system—where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use—has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.”

February 27, 2017
County of Los Angeles v. Mendez: The Rutherford Institute's amicus brief

The Rutherford Institute is urging the United States Supreme Court to hold police liable for recklessly firing 15 times into a backyard shack in which a homeless couple—Angel and Jennifer Mendez—was sheltering. Angel Mendez suffered numerous gunshot wounds, one of which required the amputation of his right leg below the knee, and his wife Jennifer was shot in the back. Los Angeles County police officers claim the use of excessive force against the homeless couple was justified as a defensive action, because Angel’s silhouette was allegedly seen holding a BB gun that he used for shooting rats.

February 23, 2017
Constitutional Q&A: American Community Survey

The Rutherford Institute has issued constitutional guidelines for individuals alarmed by the government’s use of the ACS to extract private information about their home life and personal habits.

February 14, 2017
Dantzler v. Hindman and Westbrook: Response to the motion for summary judgment

The Rutherford Institute is pushing back against an effort by police to dismiss a Fourth Amendment lawsuit challenging a warrantless raid, search, use of force against and arrest of a Texas homeowner based on unreliable information from an anonymous source. Rutherford Institute attorneys filed the lawsuit in December 2015 against law enforcement officers with the Gillespie County (Tex.) Sheriff’s Office who, after being denied entry to Huntly and Susan Dantzler’s private home without a warrant, arrested Huntly Dantzler, placed him in handcuffs, threw him to the ground, and then carried out a warrantless search of his rural home. The search was based on inaccurate information report from an anonymous and unreliable source.

January 25, 2017
Thomas Porter v. Harold W. Clarke: amicus brief

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments today challenging “dehumanizing” conditions in Virginia prisons. In asking the federal appeals court to reinstate a lawsuit on behalf of Virginia death-row inmates who were held in “dehumanizing” conditions of isolation, The Rutherford Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union joined forces in support of the prisoners, arguing that tactical policy changes adopted by the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) in order to sidestep court-mandated legal obligations (the practice of “tactical mooting”) leave prisoners at greater risk of having harsh conditions re-imposed upon them.

January 18, 2017
Lee v. Tam: Transcripts from Oral Arguments

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Lee v. Tam, which challenges the government’s practice of rejecting trademark applications for names that might be offensive to certain persons or groups.

January 12, 2017
Constitutional Q&A: Rules of Engagement for Interacting with Police

In an age of militarized police often trained to view the citizenry as enemy combatants and equipped with weaponry and gear better suited for the battlefield, the perils of exercising one’s constitutional rights grow more costly with each passing day. So what can you really do when you find yourself stopped by law enforcement officers who have almost absolute discretion to decide who is a threat, what constitutes resistance, and how harshly they can deal with the citizens they were appointed to “serve and protect”? In other words, what are the rules of engagement when it comes to interacting with the police?

December 27, 2016
Lee v. Tam: The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief to U.S. Supreme Court

The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a federal trademark statute that allows the government to reject trademark applications for names that might be offensive to certain persons or groups such as “The Slants,” an Asian-American dance rock band, whose trademark application was denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) on the grounds that the trademark might disparage or offend persons of Asian heritage (even though the applicant himself is of Asian heritage).

December 21, 2016
Constitutional Q&A: Helping the Homeless

For those who are homeless, finding a warm place to shelter during frigid winter temperatures often becomes a matter of survival. Unfortunately, charitable efforts to provide shelter and food to the homeless, especially during the winter, are often thwarted by local governments through the use of zoning laws that restrict or prohibit the provision of services to the needy. The Rutherford Institute has repeatedly defended the right of religious institutions and relief organizations to minister to the homeless and needy.  For churches and other religious institutions encountering difficulties in their attempts to help the poor and homeless, we offer the following guidance.

November 30, 2016
Constitutional Q&A: The Twelve Rules of Christmas

Over the years, The Rutherford Institute has been contacted by parents and teachers alike concerned about schools changing their Christmas concerts to “winter holiday programs” and renaming Christmas “winter festival” or cancelling holiday celebrations altogether to avoid offending those who do not celebrate the various holidays. Hoping to clear up much of the legal misunderstanding over the do’s and don’ts of celebrating Christmas, the following Constitutional Q&A on the “Twelve Rules of Christmas” provides basic guidelines for lawfully celebrating Christmas in schools, workplaces and elsewhere.

November 22, 2016
The Rutherford Institute’s amended complaint in Burruss v. Riley

Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have identified eight members of a tactical police squad in an amended complaint to a lawsuit against Virginia police over a “welfare check” on a 58-year-old man that resulted in a two-hour, SWAT team-style raid on the man’s truck and a 72-hour mental health hold.

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