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Articles Posted in Civil Rights

Long Island civil rights attorneys Famighetti & Weinick PLLC have been following the law concerning mandatory vaccinations. Recently, we blogged about the legality of workplaces requiring that employees be vaccinated. Throughout the pandemic, we opined that courts would give deference to government regulations aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, based on a 1905 Supreme Court case.

Throughout the summer of 2021, as vaccinations rates decline and the virus continues to spread, mandatory vaccination requirements are rolling out. Employers, governments, schools, colleges, and universities are all implementing vaccination requirement rules. In Indiana, Indiana University decided to require that all of its students must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the school’s next semester.

Eight students challenged the University’s rule and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard the challenge. Today’s Long Island civil rights blog discusses the decision.

Followers of our civil rights blog will know that since the early days of the pandemic, our interpretation of existing law led us to conclude that most COVID-19 regulations, include lock downs, social distancing, and mask wearing, would be upheld by courts as constitutional. This conclusion was reached in large part by a 1905 Supreme Court decision which suggested that the Supreme Court believes the Constitution gives extreme deference to states’ policy decisions to fight disease.

Indeed, in the ensuing months of the pandemic, court after court, including the Supreme Court, continued to extend deference to the states’, when challengers sought a determination that regulation was unconstitutional. On November 25, 2020, however, SCOTUS, reconstituted as a strong conservative court, pushed back on New York’s regulations effecting houses of worship. Today’s Long Island civil rights blog discusses the case.

In Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, several religious groups sued New York’s governor Cuomo, alleging recent regulations creating color coded zones based on a region’s COVID-19 outbreak, were unconstitutional. We blogged about the case when it was before New York’s federal appellate court. In brief, regions with higher outbreaks were required to comply with different regulations than regions with less significant outbreaks. The harsher regulations included which businesses could open and which must close. Further, under certain outbreak conditions, religious gatherings were limited (but not prohibited altogether). New York’s Second Circuit upheld the restrictions on religious gatherings as constitutional.

UPDATE: SCOTUS HAS REVERSED THIS DECISION. SEE OUR MOST RECENT BLOG ABOUT THIS CASE.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the civil rights lawyers at Famighetti & Weinick PLLC have been closely following the lawfulness of government restrictions implemented to control the spread of the virus. From the earliest days, our video blog series, “Lockdown Video Series,” predicted that most coronavirus regulations would be declared constitutional by courts.

As the months of the pandemic lumbered along, we continued to follow developments in the law. Our June 2020 blog discussed failing legal challenges to COVID-19 regulations, and partner, Matt Weinick, published a legal article discussing the constitutionality of face mask requirements and temperature checks at work. Again, our analysis concluded that, because of the Supreme Court’s strong deference to a government’s right to control the spread of disease, most constitutional challenges would fail.

The First Amendment protects, among other freedoms, the freedom of speech. The First Amendment applies only to prohibit government conduct, not private conduct. Governments take many forms, including towns, counties, and public school districts. So, the First Amendment applies to public schools and universities.

But, in certain contexts, such as schools, the First Amendment does not apply as broadly as it does to general citizen First Amendment speech. In some areas, such as public workplaces and public schools, the First Amendment recognizes that the government has a strong and important interest in regulating speech. So while students and government workers do not completely shed their First Amendment rights in schools and workplaces, different rules apply to determine whether the First Amendment applies.

Today’s Long Island civil rights blog discusses a First Amendment claim in the context of a public college.

From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the civil rights lawyers at Famighetti & Weinick PLLC, have predicted that constitutional challenges to  government covid-19 regulations would likely fail. Our videos and blogs have outlined some of our reasoning and earlier this month, partner Matt Weinick published an article further discussing the role of a 1905 Supreme Court case, which would likely prove fatal to most constitutional challenges.

This week, a Brooklyn federal judge again rejected another constitutional challenge, this time brought by a Long Island strip club and its owner. Today’s Long Island civil rights blog discusses the case and the judge’s decision.

In McCarthy v. Cuomo, the plaintiffs were the owner of a strip club, and the strip club itself. The essence of the lawsuit was similar to other challenges we’ve written about, except the suit also alleged that the plaintiffs were treated differently because of the type of business it conducts – a gentleman’s club. Generally, the plaintiffs alleged that the Governor’s shutdown orders and social distancing orders, violated the state and federal constitutions. They further alleged that the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program unlawfully prohibited them from applying because of the type of business they conduct.

Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, we posted content about the constitutionality of social distancing and business shutdown orders. At the time, the issues were new and had not been recently tested in court. With protests about such orders’ constitutionality becoming more prevalent and with the orders being tested in court, it is time to re-visit the question of the constitutionality of COVID-19 related government regulations.

Constitutionality of Shutdown Orders

On May 15, 2020, United States District Judge Gary R. Brown (Eastern District of New York) issued a decision relating to New York’s business shutdown order, also known as the Pause. In sum, Governor Cuomo’s order directs that all business which are non-essential must operate via telecommuting only and must reduce  their in-person workforce by 100%. Essential businesses may stay open with no reduction in force required. The order allowed for enforcement under the Public Health Law with consequences for businesses which did not comply.

Employees facing discrimination in the workplace must usually rely on statutes to sue their employers. Governments, however, must operate within the boundaries of the Constitution, including when the government acts as an employer. So, employees who work for a government, such as a state, town, city, or special district, may be able to bring legal claims against their employer when the government violates the employees’ Constitutional rights. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses a recent appellate court decision in New York which raises the bar for employment related claims against municipalities.

Elizabeth Naumovski worked for SUNY Binghamton as an assistant basketball coach. Soon after she started working, rumors circulated that Naumovski was having an “inappropriate relationship” with “J.W.,” a gay female-student athlete.  The rumors continued into the next academic year, so the school responded by imposing restrictions on interactions between students and coaches.

Yet, the rumors allegedly continued to persist into the next year. In early February 2010, the defendant head coach and athletic director spoke by phone and agreed to terminate Naumovski, allegedly because Naumovski demonstrated favoritism to some students.

No constitutional right is absolute. In the context of the First Amendment and free speech, the law regulates speech which defames another person. On Tuesday, August 6, 2019, in Palin v. The New York Times Company, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided a case involving the intersection of politics, gun violence, and free speech. The decision is ultimately a ruling about a question of procedure, but the facts and circumstances which led to the decision are relevant in today’s political climate, and the procedural issue is relevant to those litigating civil cases in New York’s federal courts. Today’s Long Island civil rights blog discusses Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times.

On January 8, 2011, Jared Loughner killed six people and injured thirteen others while opening fire at a political rally for Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona. Giffords was seriously wounded during the attack. Before the attack, Sarah Palin’s political action committee, “SarahPAC,” produced a map that displayed images of a crosshairs target over specific Democratic congressional districts. For some, this evoked images of violence.

Among those pictured on the map was Congresswoman Giffords’ district. Though the map had been publicized during the earlier political controversy surrounding the Affordable Act, in the wake of the Loughner shooting, speculation swirled that the shooting was connected to the crosshairs map.

On June 4, 2018, we blogged about a federal lawsuit concerning whether President Trump’s Twitter account invokes First Amendment concerns. We wrote about a federal District Judge’s decision in the lawsuit which held that the President’s twitter account is a public forum subject to First Amendment protections. Today, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the District Court’s decision. What did the appeals court rule? Today’s civil rights blog discusses the decision.

In Knight Institute v. Trump, a group of individuals sued President Trump. The individuals criticized the President on Twitter, then they were blocked from the President’s personal Twitter account. The individuals alleged that the President’s actions constituted a violation of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees. The Southern District of New York agreed.

On appeal, the Second Circuit considered whether President Trump’s use of Twitter’s blocking function constituted conduct in violation of the First Amendment. The government argued that the Presidents use of his personal Twitter account (@realDonaldTrump), is private conduct. Private conduct is not regulated by the First Amendment whereas government conduct is. Indeed, the government noted that the President established his Twitter account in 2009, long before he became president.

Courts have long recognized a constitutional right to intimate association. Intimate association protects close family relationships from undue interference from the government.  Today’s Long Island civil rights blog discusses some of the contours of these claims and a recent appellate court decision concerning intimate association under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Close family relationships enjoy constitutional protections. In fact, courts have determined that two amendments protect individuals’ rights to enter into and enjoy close personal relationships. The First Amendment was determined to protect close family relationships in 1999 by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. The First Amendment prohibits the government from intruding into a familial relationship as retaliation for one family member’s exercise of free speech rights.

The relationship at issue must be very close. For instance, a husband and wife, parent and child, and brother and sister (or other siblings), have all been determined to be close enough so as to constitute a constitutionally protected familial relationship. Two longtime childhood friends, however, are not constitutionally protected as an intimate association, even if those friends consider themselves so close as to constitute a de facto family.

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