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December 05, 2019

The Rutherford Institute has come to the aid of an elderly Delaware woman who has alleged that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners groped her upper and lower body, including feeling inside the waistband of her pants, during a security screening at Philadelphia’s International Airport (PHL) earlier this year. In a request under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law, Rutherford Institute attorneys have demanded copies of any video surveillance footage of the incident, which if confirmed, could support a Fourth Amendment-style lawsuit under a recent federal court ruling authorizing citizens to sue for tortious conduct committed by TSA agents. Institute attorneys point to numerous incidents in which poorly trained TSA agents have subjected elderly travelers to inappropriate touching, excessive searches and aggressive pat downs. For example, TSA employees reportedly ordered a 95-year-old leukemia patient in a wheelchair to remove her adult diaper so that agents could search her. Ninety-year-old Marian Peterson, also confined to a wheelchair, was pulled out of line for a random security check and according to her son, Joe, TSA agents “groped her. All of her body: her crotch, her breasts and everything else.”

November 21, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review the case of a Hispanic man who was sentenced to death—and subsequently subjected to eight years of solitary confinement for up to 22 hours a day, which is tantamount to physical torture—based on an expert witness’ racist testimony suggesting that Hispanics pose a greater danger to society than other individuals. The Rutherford Institute had asked the Supreme Court to address the many failings of America’s capital punishment system, epitomized by the case of Victor Hugo Saldaño (Saldaño v. Davis), whose death sentence and lengthy solitary confinement in Texas were allegedly the result of racial bias, mental incompetence and systemic injustice.

November 15, 2019

Condemning draconian zero tolerance school policies bereft of common sense, The Rutherford Institute is demanding that a Kansas City area school district seek the exoneration of a middle school student who pointed an imaginary “finger gun” at classmates, resulting in her being handcuffed, arrested, charged with a felony for threatening a mass shooting, and criminally prosecuted. Incredibly, the girl with the "imaginary" gun was punished more harshly than students who brought actual guns to school in their backpacks.

November 01, 2019

Oklahoma police have asked a federal court to support their claim that citizens who comply with police during an arrest do not have a clearly established right to be free from police brutality. The police’s justification of the use of excessive force, even in the absence of provocation, were made in a motion by City of Muskogee police seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by attorneys for The Rutherford Institute on behalf of Jeriel Edwards, an African-American man who, despite complying police orders during an arrest, was subjected to excessive force and brutality, including being thrown to the ground, tasered, and placed in a chokehold that rendered him unconscious and required his hospitalization for three days. The police officers’ motion seeks immunity from The Rutherford Institute’s Fourth Amendment lawsuit. In light of the fact that the beating Edwards was subjected to by police was clearly unreasonable and excessive, Institute attorneys have urged the court to reject the government’s justifications and claim of immunity. 

October 18, 2019

Citing the First Amendment and a state religious freedom law, The Rutherford Institute has told Kentucky regulators that their ongoing attempts to place bureaucratic roadblocks in the path of a ministry’s efforts to provide free corrective eyeglasses to the poor and homeless violates the ministry’s rights. Kendall Optometry Ministry—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 have warned the Ministry that its charity work violates state licensing laws that could result in fines and jail time. In coming to the defense of the Optometry Ministry, Rutherford Institute attorneys contend that attempts to shut down the Ministry violate a state law protecting religious freedom.

October 02, 2019

In a victory for common sense and the rights of citizens to not have their lawful First Amendment activity chilled by egregious, excessive government security protocols, officials with the City of Charlottesville have agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by The Rutherford Institute. Rutherford Institute attorneys filed the lawsuit on behalf of a disabled war veteran who was arrested in 2018 for lawfully purchasing canned iced tea, bug spray, lightbulbs and razor blades at a mall drug store in so-called “violation” of the city’s pre-emptive “state of emergency” lockdown measures adopted in anticipation of the one-year anniversary of the August 12, 2017, racially-charged protests and counter-protests in the City. The items were banned under the City’s 2018 ordinances and as part of the city’s pre-emptive measures to discourage civil unrest. Illustrating how absurdly illogical the city’s protocols were, the veteran—punished for being in possession of canned iced tea and bug spray—was permitted to open carry two firearms through a downtown mall security checkpoint.

September 26, 2019

Denouncing state laws that claim to advocate for school choice while discriminating against individuals who favor private schools with religious ties, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a provision of Montana’s constitution that prohibits students from using scholarship funds to attend religiously-affiliated private schools. In filing an amicus brief in Espinoza v. Mont. Dept. of Revenue, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that Montana’s discriminatory law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, Institute attorneys point out that the school choice restrictions are the end result of a 150-year-old provision of the state’s constitution known as a “Blaine Amendment,” which was enacted in an era when anti-Catholic prejudice and nativist opposition to immigration from Ireland and Germany were rampant. Thirty-seven states still have versions of the Blaine Amendments in their constitutions.

September 20, 2019

The Rutherford Institute has asked a federal appeals court to strike down an Arkansas county jail’s postcard-only policy that limits the mail prisoners can send and receive to postcards, arguing that the restriction violates the First Amendment. In an amicus curiae brief in Human Rights Defense Center v. Baxter County, AR, filed in conjunction with R Street Institute, the Clark-Fox Family Foundation, Arch City Defenders and Americans for Prosperity, Rutherford Institute attorneys point to historic examples of prisoner communications—such as St. Paul’s epistles written from prison, the letters of Martin Luther King, Jr.,  and German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer—as examples of the kinds of writings that could be inhibited or prevented by the postcard-only rule.

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.