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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.

May 24, 2019

The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of a Virginia couple’s right as parents to provide quality of life care to their disabled daughter, including an adherence to religious beliefs that impact her diet, hygiene, medical care, and an emphasis on organic, wholesome, personal experiences rather than those that are synthetic and machine-driven. Rutherford Institute attorneys filed suit against the Commonwealth of Virginia, alleging that government officials are, for the sake of expediency, undermining the First Amendment rights of the Gupta family: 19-year-old Alisha, who suffers from a congenital brain defect that requires round-the-clock nursing care in a government facility and yet strives to exercise her Jain Hindu religious beliefs in a myriad of ways, and her parents, who have ordered their lives in such a way as to ensure that their daughter—despite her disability—is treated with dignity, compassion and humanity in accordance with their religious and cultural beliefs.

May 15, 2019

In a rebuke to the practice of subjecting prisoners to solitary confinement, a federal appeals court has held 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. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 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.

April 25, 2019

Individuals who engage in controversial and unpopular political or artistic expression, by criticizing the police for example, can be labeled terrorists and subject to prosecution and suppression by the government as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to let stand a lower court ruling in Knox v. Pennsylvania. By refusing to hear the case of rapper Jamal Knox (a.k.a. “Mayhem Mal”), who was charged with making terroristic threats after posting a song critical of police on Facebook and YouTube, the U.S. Supreme Court has approved the government’s expansion of the definition of “true threats.” According to The Rutherford Institute, this could have significant chilling effects on online communications and controversial art forms, including expressive activity shared through social media such as Facebook and YouTube, particularly in an age when the government engages in unprecedented monitoring of new and ever-changing forms of expression, online and otherwise.

April 18, 2019

Warning that the government must not be given the power to criminalize speech it deems distasteful or annoying, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the prosecution of a Texas man who faces up to one year in jail and a $4000 fine for sending emails to police criticizing them for failing to respond to his requests for assistance. In an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that the prosecution of Scott Ogle for sending complaints to a sheriff’s office, including one email stating that officials were “pissing” on the Constitution, violates the First Amendment’s safeguards for freedom of speech and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Moreover, Institute attorneys argue that the Texas law under which Ogle was charged, which makes it a crime to send “annoying,” “alarming” or “harassing” electronic messages, is so overbroad that it could be used to punish a negative review of a restaurant posted online or caustic Facebook posts.

April 12, 2019

Denouncing a Virginia town’s draconian lockdown measures as a clear example of a dysfunctional, excessive government that overreaches, overspends, and is out of sync with the Constitution, The Rutherford Institute has asked a federal court to hold government officials responsible for adopting costly security protocols lacking in common sense and intended to chill First Amendment activity. The Rutherford Institute’s actions come in response to a motion filed by the City of Charlottesville to dismiss Miska v. Charlottesville, a Fourth Amendment lawsuit against the City over its August 2018 “state of emergency” lockdown measures. The lawsuit arose after police swarmed a disabled war veteran and arrested him for lawfully purchasing canned iced tea, bug spray, lightbulbs and razor blades, which were banned as part of the city’s pre-emptive measures to discourage civil unrest, all the while allowing him to carry two firearms—which were not among the city’s prohibited items—through a security checkpoint.

April 11, 2019

The Rutherford Institute has denounced the U.S. government’s attempts to extradite and prosecute Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for his part in disclosing information relating to government misconduct that is within the public’s right to know. Assange was arrested on charges of helping U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning access and leak more than 700,000 classified military documents that raise significant ethical and legal questions about the government’s war efforts abroad.

April 05, 2019

The Rutherford Institute is sounding the alarm over a local Virginia ordinance that makes it illegal for people to sleep in their cars and subjects them to warrantless seizures and searches by police and a fine of $250. Warning that government officials have opened themselves up to legal jeopardy with the enactment of Roanoke County Code § 13-14, a constitutionally vague, overly broad ordinance that could subject all motorists who nap in their vehicles to warrantless seizures and searches by police, The Rutherford Institute is urging the County Board of Supervisors to repeal the ordinance. Institute attorneys also voice the concern that the ordinance—a thinly veiled attempt to crack down on the area’s homeless population—echoes a national trend in urban and suburban communities to criminalize homelessness.

March 28, 2019

Pushing back against a law that allows the government to censor speech it finds distasteful or immoral, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a federal statute that allows the government to reject trademark applications for “scandalous” brand names that some might find offensive. In this particular case, the government 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. In an amicus brief filed with the Court in Iancu v. Brunetti, Rutherford Institute attorneys contend that the statute 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.

March 21, 2019

Warning that overburdened, underfunded and—consequently, at times—incompetent public defenders jeopardize the Sixth Amendment’s assurance of the right to a fair trial when they fail to present an adequate defense for those too poor to hire a competent attorney, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case of Vickers v. Missouri. In Vickers, a Missouri man was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole after a trial court refused to allow Victor Vickers’ public defender to present last-minute testimony discovered on the morning of the trial that placed Vickers elsewhere at the time of the alleged murder. Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that the court violated Vickers’ Sixth Amendment right to present a defense to criminal charges when it ruled that the delay in providing notice of the witness justified the exclusion of crucial evidence exonerating Vickers.

March 15, 2019

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Clinton v. Jones (1997), in which a unanimous Court held that the president is not above the law and may be sued for misconduct committed outside of his official duties, a New York appeals court has rejected President Trump’s request to dismiss or delay a defamation lawsuit brought against him. Clinton v. Jones arose in relation to a sexual harassment lawsuit against then-President Bill Clinton which successfully argued that presidents do not have immunity from federal court lawsuits brought by citizens harmed by the president before he or she takes office. The ruling by the N.Y. Supreme Court’s Appellate Division in Zervos v. Trump found that President Trump is similarly not shielded from a state court lawsuit under a provision of the U.S. Constitution making federal law superior to state law. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute assisted Paula Jones in advancing the arguments in her lawsuit against Bill Clinton, which alleged that Clinton, while serving as Governor of Arkansas, lured Jones—then a state employee—up to a Little Rock hotel room, dropped his pants, and propositioned her for oral sex. The lawsuit eventually ended with Clinton paying $850,000 to settle the case.

March 11, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an effort to require police to render emergency aid to individuals they injure in the course of an arrest. In refusing to hear the case of Stevens-Rucker v. Frenz, in which Ohio police shot a military veteran multiple times and then—despite their first aid training—let him bleed to death, the Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that police satisfy their constitutional obligations to assist a person they injure in the course of an arrest simply by calling for an ambulance to transport the arrestee to a hospital. Attorneys with The Rutherford Institute had asked the Court to hear the case, arguing that if prisoners have a constitutional right to medical care under the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments, then police should be held to a comparable standard in their treatment of arrestees who require urgent medical attention.

March 07, 2019

Weighing in on a First Amendment case that could have significant ramifications for online communications and controversial art forms, The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of a rap artist who was charged with making terrorist threats after posting a rap song critical of police on Facebook and YouTube. Police had been actively monitoring rapper Jamal Knox’s (a.k.a. “Mayhem Mal”) social media presence when they discovered the song titled “F**k the Police” and charged Knox and his rap partner with multiple counts of terroristic threats and witness intimidation. The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Knox v. Pennsylvania, filed in conjunction with The CATO Institute, asks the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case and reject an attempt by government officials to expand the definition of “true threats,” making controversial and unpopular political or artistic expression subject to prosecution and suppression by the government.

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