Houston Community College System v. Wilson upheld by court

The Court today delivered opinions in two cases, both interesting in their particular factual circumstances, but neither controversial, one having been decided unanimously and the other with a single dissent.

Houston Community College System v. Wilson concerned about whether a school board member who had been sanctioned by the board as a whole for his repeated vexatious lawsuits and statements in the media could bring an action against the school and its trustees under 42 U.S.C § 1983, claiming that council censorship violated the First Amendment.

In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Gorsuch, the Court concluded that David Wilson lacked standing to do so. Wilson’s position contradicts the long constitutional history of elected bodies, including Congress, exercising the power to censure their members. For example, Congress has censured members not only for objectionable remarks directed at other deputies, but also for comments to the media, public remarks leaking confidential information, and conduct or speech deemed injurious to the nation. Censorships were also found to be common at state and local levels.

Thus, to sue for First Amendment retaliation, someone like Wilson must show that the government took “adverse action” in response to his speech that “would not have been taken but for the cause of retaliation. “. Nieves v. Bartlett, 587 United States ___, ___. Regardless of what method the lower courts might have used to reach such a decision, any fair assessment must take into account that Wilson was an elected official who was supposed to face some degree of criticism over his public service of the share with his constituents and peers – and continue to exercise his free speech rights when criticism comes.

Moreover, the only adverse action at issue in court is itself a form of speech by Wilson’s colleagues that concerns the conduct of the public service. In other words, in ruling that Wilson could not raise a viable claim, the Court held that the First Amendment condoned free speech on both sides of the issue at hand.

Ramirez v. Collier resolved the question of whether a brutal convicted murderer had the right to have his longtime pastor “lay hands on him” and audibly “pray for him” during his execution.

John Ramirez has argued that prison officials’ refusal to allow his pastor to lay his hands on him in the execution chamber breached his rights under the Religious Land Use and People Act 2000 institutionalized (RLUIPA) and the First Amendment. He requested an injunction prohibiting his execution unless that request is granted. In an opinion written by the Chief Justice, the Court ruled that Ramirez is likely to succeed on his RLUIPA claims because Texas restrictions on religious touching and audible prayer in the execution chamber weigh on religious exercise and are not the least restrictive means of promoting state obligation. interests. Applying standard criteria for an injunction, the Court held that, among other things, Ramirez was likely to succeed on the merits and (obviously, to say the least) would suffer irreparable harm if the injunction were Refused.

Rejecting defendant’s arguments regarding exhaustion of remedies and waiver, the Court considered the merits of Ramirez’s claim under RLUIPA, which provides that “[n]o the government must impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution” unless the government demonstrates that the burden imposed on that person is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest , and held that Ramirez’s request was “honestly based on a religious belief” and, because it is possible to accommodate such beliefs without delaying or preventing its execution, that the balance of equity and the public interest favored the injunction.

On remand, such relief would be needed if Texas were to continue to ban audible prayer or religious touching. Judge Thomas, who argued that Ramirez engaged in an ongoing pattern of misconduct simply to prevent his execution, dissented. Justices Sotomayor and Kavanaugh, who were part of the majority, also filed concurring opinions regarding the future application of RLUIPA.

Assuming, as we have seen in other cases, that the three liberal justices who opposed capital punishment would almost certainly favor anything that would delay or even prevent its application, it is interesting to note that four Tories were also in the 8-1 majority.

This likely shows that regardless of their potential support for capital punishment in other circumstances, their views on religious freedom were prevalent here.

©2022 Epstein Becker & Green, PC All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 83

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