Seventh Circuit Review
Volume 11, Issue 1 (Fall 2015)
Introduction (contains Table of Contents, Masthead, About the Seventh Circuit Review)
"Googling" Your Way to Justice: How Judge Posner Was (Almost) Correct in His Use of Internet Research in Rowe v. Gibson
M. Cristina Martin
11 Seventh Circuit Rev. 1 (2015) [Full Article] [Audio Synopsis]
Abstract: The Internet is a temptation which many courts have been unable to resist. Over the past twenty years, judges at trial and appellate levels have increasingly used Internet research in crafting their judicial opinions. Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit is a huge proponent of this proposition, and in August 2015, he authored an opinion which took this independent Internet research to a new level. In Rowe v. Gibson, Judge Posner's opinion reversed summary judgment for a pro se litigant partly based on independent Internet research performed by the court. His justification for using this Internet research was due to the plaintiff's lack of resources as a pro se litigant. Rowe, a prisoner, was not knowledgeable enough to build a proper record by himself, and he did not have the resources to hire his own attorney. As such, he was unable to avoid summary judgment. Judge Posner argued that a court's careful use of Internet research would assist pro se litigants whose cases are in danger of being dismissed due to procedural failure. [Read more...]
Judge Posner is correct that pro se litigants are at a severe disadvantage with regard to procedure in a courtroom. He is also correct that a court must be free to use information from the Internet in litigation. This Article proposes a way to allow judges to use Internet research as a form of judicial notice, as well as to assist pro se and underrepresented litigants have their day in court. First, courts must develop a standardized way to consider pro se litigants' pleadings. Many courts construe pro se litigants' pleadings liberally, but have little regulation for this proposition. By using a factor-balancing approach, a court may determine which litigants are the most deserving of lowered pleading standards. These litigants will also potentially benefit from judicial Internet research. Next, a court may consider taking judicial notice of facts on the Internet. These facts and websites consulted must meet the standards of the Federal Rules of Evidence for accuracy and reliability. If a pro se litigant is flagged as vulnerable based on the first part of the test, a court has the ability to take judicial notice of certain facts in early stages of the proceedings.
This test tracks with the Supreme Court's desire to not allow pro se litigants to become an underrepresented class in court. In Rowe, Judge Posner's sentiment was admirable, but still not an entirely permissible use of judicial Internet research. In order for a court to be able to assist pro se litigants to create opportunities for their cases to go to trial, it must use Internet research according to specific rules. Only then can pro se litigants get a fair chance in court.[Condense Abstract]
Abstract: In recent years, the Supreme Court has continuously reiterated the importance of the right to marry, finding it to be a fundamental right protected by the Constitution. Activists across the nation have celebrated the Court's continued protection of this fundamental right as it has expanded the rights of same-sex couples. What has received somewhat less attention is how the Court's right to marry doctrine has affected a different segment of the population—prisoners. In the United States, there are currently 2.2 million people serving time in our nation's prisons or jails. For many of us, prisoners are people we would rather not think about. These are individuals who have violated the laws of our society. However, these individuals still have rights protected by the Constitution, and that we cannot ignore. [Read more...]
In a case involving facts that could be right out of the hit show Orange is the New Black, the Seventh Circuit recently confronted the question of how to define a prisoner's right to marry. In Riker v. Lemmon, the Seventh Circuit addressed the question of whether prisoners have a fundamental right to marry. The Seventh Circuit also reviewed the constitutionality of a prison regulation that prohibited a former employee of the prison from marrying a prisoner who was housed at the same facility where the former employee had worked. The Supreme Court has articulated a standard for reviewing a prisoner's claim that their constitutional rights have been violated. The test is a four-factor reasonableness test to determine whether there is a valid rational connection between the regulation and a legitimate government interest. The other factors to be considered are whether there are alternative means of exercising the right, what impact accommodating the right would have on the prison environment, and if there are easy alternatives to the regulation.
Courts should be cautious in determining whether there is a rational connection between the regulation and a legitimate government interest. It is important that courts do not substitute their own judgment regarding prison regulations for those of the prison administration without giving due course to the balance between protecting the prisoner's constitutional rights and the need to maintain a safe and secure prison environment. The Seventh Circuit's recent decision in Riker illustrates these principles. This Article argues that the Seventh Circuit erred by failing to acknowledge the prison's security justifications for preventing a former employee from marrying a prisoner. Instead of simply focusing on the first factor of the test, the court should have more fully analyzed the other factors. Although the court erred in its analysis, in the end it reached the correct conclusion. Here, an analysis of the other factors demonstrates that the regulation was unconstitutional because the prison could have transferred the prisoner to a different prison to alleviate any security-related concerns with de minimis impact on the prison environment.[Condense Abstract]
Abstract: A writ of habeas corpus is often the last resort—the final "Hail Mary"—for prisoners seeking relief. Dubbed the "Great Writ," a writ of habeas corpus is used to bring a prisoner before the court to determine the legality of the prisoner's incarceration or detention. This writ, utilized since our country's inception, is protected by the Constitution, and is available to all prisoners, both state and federal. [Read more...]
Federal prisoners seeking habeas corpus relief must proceed under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Section 2255 permits a federal prisoner to move to vacate or set aside his sentence upon the grounds that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States. Federal prisoners may bring an initial habeas corpus motion pursuant to Section 2255 as a matter of right. Thereafter, in order to be heard, any subsequent motion must either present a new rule of constitutional law previously unavailable to the prisoner or newly discovered evidence that would demonstrate innocence of the underlying crime. If these conditions are not satisfied, the prisoner is barred from filing a successive habeas corpus motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.
There is, however, one well-known and often-relied-upon exception to this procedural bar. The Savings Clause, contained within Section 2255, allows a federal prisoner to file a traditional writ of habeas corpus when the remedy provided by Section 2255 is "inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of the detention." This is largely a fact-specific inquiry, as the terms "inadequate" and "ineffective" have not been defined by Congress or interpreted by the Supreme Court. Because of this ambiguity, the application of the Savings Clause is frequently litigated, and the Circuit Courts of Appeal have developed different approaches for determining whether the Clause applies.
In Webster v. Daniels, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit applied the Savings Clause to allow a federal prisoner, Daniel Webster, to present new evidence that would allegedly demonstrate categorical ineligibility for the death penalty. The Seventh Circuit cited two reasons in support of its decision. The first being that that a plain reading of Section 2255 justifies application of the Savings Clause in Mr. Webster's case. The Seventh Circuit also reasoned that Mr. Webster should have the benefit of arguing his ineligibility on the basis of a so-called "new" constitutional ruling. This Comment argues that these justifications fail to support the application of the Savings Clause in Mr. Webster's case. Indeed, the Seventh Circuit's decision in Webster exceeds far beyond the limitations established by relevant Seventh Circuit Savings Clause jurisprudence. The Seventh Circuit's decision in Webster also fails to take into account the objective of 28 U.S.C. § 2255, which raises significant policy concerns.[Condense Abstract]
Abstract: Undocumented immigrants within the United States are human. Whether they exist as "people" protected by the Bill of Rights is another question entirely. The Second Amendment states "the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." The phrase "the people" appears in the First, Second, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, among other places in the United States' most sacred documents. However, courts have rarely defined "the people," except in the Fourth and—recently—Second Amendment contexts. In United States v. Verdugo–Urquidez, the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment protects "people," such as undocumented immigrants within the United States, so long as they can show substantial connections with the United States. [Read more...]
In August 2015, the Seventh Circuit created a circuit split by applying the substantial connections test from the Fourth Amendment to the Second Amendment. In United States v. Meza–Rodriguez, a grand jury indicted Mariano Meza–Rodriguez under a federal firearms law for being an undocumented immigrant in possession of a firearm. He challenged the indictment, arguing that the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss violated his Second Amendment right to bear arms. The Seventh Circuit applied the Fourth Amendment Verdugo–Urquidez substantial connections test to the Second Amendment context. So long as undocumented immigrants in the United States have developed substantial connections with the United States, the Second Amendment confers to them a right to bear arms. Applying the test, the Seventh Circuit held that Mr. Meza–Rodriguez had a Second Amendment right to bear arms permissibly restricted by a federal firearms law.
In contravention of the Supreme Court's reading of "the people" in the Fourth Amendment context in Verdugo–Urquidez, three federal circuit courts have not extended that reading of "the people" to the Second Amendment. Unlike the other circuits, the Seventh Circuit followed a consistent reading of "the people" and aligned with Supreme Court language in other contexts to provide a superior interpretation of "the people."[Condense Abstract]
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