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June 15, 2020

Despite growing calls to hold police accountable for using excessive force in non-threatening circumstances, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review any cases challenging the doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which shields police from liability for official wrongdoing. The nine qualified immunity cases in which the Court denied cert involved a SWAT team’s destruction of a home by bombarding it with tear gas grenades, a police dog that was ordered to attack a man who had already surrendered, and the mistaken shooting of a 10-year-old boy by a cop who was aiming for a non-threatening family dog.

June 11, 2020

The Rutherford Institute delivered a strongly worded rebuke to President Trump and members of his administration for invading, seizing and occupying church property in violation of longstanding prohibitions against government encroachments on the free exercise of religion. In a letter to President Trump, Rutherford Institute attorneys assert that he and other Executive Branch officials flagrantly abused their power on June 1, 2020, when government agents mounted an armed invasion of St. John’s Episcopal Church; physically assaulted church officials acting in their official capacity; forcefully ejected church officials from church property, thereby preventing them from exercising their right to religious freedom; and used military forces to temporarily seize church property in order to allow President Trump to usurp a religious pulpit for his own political purposes. Warning that the government’s actions could open the Trump Administration up to further legal action, Rutherford Institute attorneys are calling on the president to repudiate his actions of June 1.

June 04, 2020

In a major victory for the First Amendment rights of churches to not be unfairly discriminated against in their efforts to worship in accordance with their religious beliefs, Delaware will no longer impose any mandatory COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship beyond those that are generally applicable to other secular entities. The concession comes in the wake of a First Amendment lawsuit filed by Rutherford Institute attorneys in Rev. Dr. Christopher Allen Bullock v. Gov. John C. Carney, which challenges the manner in which state governments have subjected churches to more strident COVID-19 restrictions while allowing exceptions for big-box shopping stores, liquor stores, and guns shops. The latest guidance, issued by the governor’s office on June 2, removes all prior prohibitions and mandatory restrictions on church gatherings, replacing them with recommendations that churches can use as they determine how best to safely and responsibly minister to their congregants.

June 02, 2020

Denouncing the fact that Americans cannot even drive their cars without being enmeshed in the government’s web of surveillance, The Rutherford Institute has asked the Virginia Supreme Court to prohibit Virginia police from using license plate readers as surveillance tools to track drivers’ movements. Mounted next to traffic lights or on police cars, Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR), which photograph over 1,800 license tag numbers per minute, take a picture of every passing license tag number and store the tag number and the date, time, and location of the picture in a searchable database. The data is then shared with law enforcement, fusion centers and private companies and used to track the movements of persons in their cars. There are reportedly tens of thousands of these license plate readers now in operation throughout the country. It is estimated that over 99% of the people being unnecessarily surveilled are entirely innocent. In challenging the use of license plate readers by Fairfax police, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that Fairfax County’s practice of collecting and storing license plate reader data violates a Virginia law prohibiting the government from amassing personal information about individuals, including their driving habits and location.

May 21, 2020

In a victory for common sense and the rights of churches to safely exercise their constitutional rights in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State has conceded that churches may hold drive-in worship services. The announcement by Gov. Andrew Cuomo came five days after The Rutherford Institute came to the defense of a small church in Massena, NY, that was allegedly threatened with prosecution and $1000 fines for holding drive-in worship services that adhere to social distancing guidelines.  

May 19, 2020

Taking issue with the manner in which state governments have subjected churches to more strident COVID-19 restrictions while allowing exceptions for big-box shopping stores, liquor stores, and guns shops, The Rutherford Institute is asking a federal court to ensure that churches are not being unfairly discriminated against in their efforts to worship in accordance with their religious beliefs. In a First Amendment lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Delaware, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that Gov. John Carney’s state of emergency orders restricting indoor gatherings deprive Delaware churches of the equal protection of the law. The lawsuit, Rev. Dr. Christopher Allen Bullock v. Gov. John C. Carney, was filed on behalf of Rev. Bullock, the founder and pastor for Canaan Baptist Church near New Castle, Del., who believes the state’s restrictions are too intrusive, overstepping the wall of separation between church and state.

May 15, 2020

The Rutherford Institute has warned that it will consider filing a First Amendment lawsuit if police continue to threaten a New York church with prosecution and $1000 fines for holding drive-in worship services that adhere to social distancing guidelines. In a legal letter to the Chief of Police for the Town of Massena, NY, Rutherford Institute attorneys point out that while federal and state governments have adopted specific restrictive measures in an effort to decelerate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the current public health situation has not resulted in the suspension of fundamental constitutional rights such as religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right of assembly. Institute attorneys also pointed out that such a ban is an overbroad restriction on First Amendment rights as long as other similar drive-in activities are allowed. For example, the state’s restrictions allow for gathering in convenience stores, beverage stores, hardware stores, and drive-thru restaurant lines. 

May 07, 2020

In refusing to strike down an overly broad law criminalizing pro-immigration speech, the U.S. Supreme Court has paved the way for the government to punish anyone engaging in so-called “anti-government” speech that encourages resistance to tyranny through civil disobedience. Elevating judicial technicalities and procedure over fundamental rights, the Court unanimously ruled in United States v. Sineneng-Smith that the lower court had overstepped its authority when it, and not the defendant, noticed that the federal statute which makes it a crime to “encourage” undocumented aliens to remain in the country was overbroad in violation of the First Amendment. The Rutherford Institute, in conjunction with the ACLU and the Service Employees International Union, filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that the statute is overbroad and could serve as a model for laws used to punish anyone who urges resistance to government tyranny.  

April 24, 2020

The Rutherford Institute is warning government officials not to weaponize the COVID-19 health crisis in order to justify carrying out surveillance on and retaliating against persons who exercise their First Amendment rights to publicly protest government misconduct in a manner consistent with “social distancing” guidelines. The Institute issued its warning after officials reportedly threatened a Maryland family with up to a year in jail and a $5000 fine if they attempt to publicly assemble and protest the murder of 21-year-old Duncan Lemp, a software engineer and Second Amendment advocate, who was gunned down in his bedroom during an early morning, no-knock SWAT team raid on his house.

April 20, 2020

In a 6-3 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that states must abide by the Sixth Amendment’s requirement of unanimous jury verdicts for convictions in criminal cases involving “serious offenses.” Pushing back against the idea that the application of fundamental constitutional rights is dependent on what state you live in, The Rutherford Institute had filed an amicus brief in Ramos v. Louisiana, asking the Supreme Court to prevent the states from “watering down” the rights of criminal defendants and arguing that the right to a unanimous jury in criminal cases—a right dating back to the Magna Carta—should be uniform throughout the United States. 

April 17, 2020

The Rutherford Institute is pushing back against an effort by police to chill constitutionally-protected civil rights protests through the use of retaliatory lawsuits. In filing an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Mckesson v. Doe, Rutherford Institute attorneys are challenging a ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that allows law enforcement officials to hold protest organizers financially liable when officers get hurt (accidental or otherwise) while carrying out their duties at a constitutionally-protected demonstration, even when the organizers themselves did nothing to cause the injury. Incredibly, the lower court reasoned that organizers of a protest should be held responsible for engaging in activity that merely has the potential to involve police or require their presence, thereby exposing them to possible injuries. The case arose after a police officer, positioned near a group that was protesting police brutality in front of police headquarters, was hit by a projectile thrown by an unknown, unidentified individual. The injured officer sued one of the event organizers, DeRay Mckesson, for more than $75,000, despite the fact that Mckesson engaged in no acts of violence and did not incite or condone violence by others.

April 09, 2020

At no time in the history of this nation has the government (federal or state) ever attempted to impose such onerous restrictions on the rights of religious individuals as we are seeing play out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

April 07, 2020

In an 8-1 ruling that empowers police to carry out dubious traffic stops and paves the way for further abuses of law enforcement’s “blank check policing” privileges, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the police practice of stopping and questioning drivers if their cars are registered to unlicensed owners, in the absence of specific wrongdoing by the driver and whether or not the owners are behind the wheel (such vehicles are often driven by licensed family members and friends). With Justice Sonia Sotomayor as the lone dissenter, the Court justified its decision in Kansas v. Glover on the basis that police can assume that persons whose licenses have been revoked are criminals who will continue to violate the law. The Rutherford Institute filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that allowing police to stop a vehicle whenever the owner is unlicensed violates the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that a stop be supported by specific evidence that a driver engaged in unlawful conduct. In their brief, Rutherford Institute attorneys had asked the Supreme Court to reject the state’s proposed rule that because some drivers disregard license-suspension orders, police are justified in detaining any vehicle owned by a person whose license is suspended.

April 03, 2020

Pushing back against government efforts to chip away at the privacy and security guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a state court decision allowing police to search the homes of probationers without any suspicion or justification.  In an amicus brief filed in Hamm v. State of Tennessee, Institute attorneys have asked the Court to overturn a Tennessee court’s ruling that police have carte blanche to search the residence of probationers, arguing that it violates the Fourth Amendment’s overriding purpose to protect the sanctity and security of a person’s home.

March 18, 2020

Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have appealed a federal court’s ruling that refused to hold police responsible for brutalizing an African-American man who, despite complying with 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. In a brief filed in Edwards v. Harmon on behalf of Jeriel Edwards, Institute attorneys are asking the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the dismissal of Edwards’ Fourth Amendment lawsuit and allow a jury to determine whether police used excessive and unreasonable force upon Edwards. The brief argues that, as shown by dash cam video of the arrest, Edwards was not resisting and was subdued at the time he was tased and subjected to a chokehold, making the officers’ actions a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.

March 05, 2020

In a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could determine how far the courts may go in shielding police from being held accountable for wrongdoing, The Rutherford Institute is challenging a lower court ruling that prevents victims of police shootings for suing police for violations of their civil rights if the shooting did not result in an immediate arrest. In an amicus brief filed jointly with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) in Torres v. Madrid, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that lower courts erred in ruling police did not violate the Fourth Amendment rights of a woman who, mistaking police officers for carjackers, fled from police, was pursued and shot twice in the back. The lower courts reasoned that because the woman was not arrested, she had not technically been “seized” by the police and, thus, could not sue police for “unreasonable searches and seizures” in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

February 27, 2020

In a blow to all persons seeking justice for violations of the Constitution by federal officers, a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that a U.S. Border Patrol agent cannot be sued 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. In an amicus brief filed in Hernandez v. Mesa, The Rutherford Institute and a coalition of human rights organization had urged the Supreme Court to reinstate an excessive force lawsuit against a Border Patrol agent (a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil) for shooting across the border at 15-year-old Sergio Hernandez (a Mexican national), who was struck in the head.

February 24, 2020

Pushing back against government attempts to further extend the surveillance state, The Rutherford Institute is asking the Virginia General Assembly to reject legislation that would authorize state entities to use automated cameras and radar devices to bring speeding charges for which the accused is presumed guilty. In denouncing House Bill 1442, which would allow localities to set up “photo speed monitoring devices” in school crossing and highway work zones, Institute attorneys point out that HB 1442 upends bedrock legal principles that are meant to protect citizens accused of misconduct. The letter also accuses the General Assembly of concealing the existence of HB 1442 as it worked its way through the lawmaking process, robbing citizens of the opportunity to air their views on the use of speed monitoring systems, which have been widely unpopular when proposed in other jurisdictions.

February 13, 2020

In a case that will decide whether the government can interfere with the choices of religious institutions regarding who may minister to and lead followers on matters of faith, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm that the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty prevents the government from meddling in church decisions involving religious doctrine and who is allowed to teach that doctrine. In an amicus brief filed with the Court in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Agnes Morrisey-Beru and St. James School v. Darryl Biel, Institute attorneys argue that the government has no jurisdiction to second-guess church decisions on who can act and serve as “ministers.”

February 07, 2020

Taking a stand for environmental justice for minority communities that have historically borne the brunt of the damaging effects of corporate development, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm a lower court ruling that halted construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline on a path that includes crossing the Appalachian Trail and national forests. In an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court in U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Rutherford Institute attorneys point out that the planned pipeline construction would not only permanently deface national natural treasures like the Appalachian Trail but also would have disproportionate adverse environmental and health effects on predominantly African-American communities.

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