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A Religious Flag Flap in Boston ... and Other Legal News You May Have Missed

By Richard Dahl | Last updated on

The City of Boston appears to be headed for defeat over its refusal to allow a private Christian organization to raise a flag at City Hall.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case, Shurtleff v. City of Boston, on Jan. 18, and the panel's conservative majority appeared poised to rule against the city.

The Christian group, Camp Constitution, sued the city after officials wouldn't allow it to fly its flag for one hour as part of an event at City Hall Plaza in September 2017.

The city had granted 284 requests by organizations to fly flags in connection with many kinds of events over a 12-year period. But as Judge Bruce M. Selya wrote in a unanimous U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruling in favor of the city last January, "all 284 flags previously flown were flags of countries, civic organizations, or secular causes."

Camp Constitution's request was the first from a religious organization, and the city argued that flying the flag would amount to government endorsement of religion. The organization countered that the city had created a public forum with that flagpole. Therefore, its refusal meant that the city government was muzzling free speech.

In November, the plaintiffs picked up a strong ally when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief supporting Camp Constitution, arguing that Boston violated the group's First Amendment rights.

The consensus among media who covered the oral arguments at the Supreme Court was that the justices would rule against Boston.

The court is expected to issue its decision by late June.

Gun Shop Closures During Pandemic Are Unconstitutional, Court Rules

A federal appellate court ruled that guns are as important as food when it comes to pandemic shutdown orders.

Two California counties' inclusion of gun shops among all the businesses that were ordered closed during the pandemic's early stages was unconstitutional, a conservative three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded on Jan. 20. The panel rejected lower court rulings that supported Los Angeles and Ventura counties' decisions to shut down gun shops and shooting ranges.

Judge Lawrence VanDyke wrote that the orders barred citizens "from realizing their right to keep and bear arms, both by prohibiting access to acquiring any firearms and ammunition, and barring practice at firing ranges with any firearms already owned."

In an unusual move, VanDyke wrote a concurring opinion to his own ruling, predicting that most of the judges of the Ninth Circuit would disagree with him and that a larger panel would hear the case.

Pot-Money Transporter Sues the Feds

An armored car company busted last year by the feds for transporting legally generated marijuana money is now suing the federal government for the seizure.

Empyreal Logistics, a transport service used by licensed marijuana dispensaries in Missouri and other states, says in its lawsuit that enforcement agencies are targeting their armored cars, "because it is very profitable for those law enforcement agencies to seize the cash proceeds that Empyreal is transporting and keep the money using civil forfeiture."

Last year, a sheriff's deputy in Dickinson County, Kansas, stopped an Empyreal vehicle for an unspecified traffic violation. The deputy seized nearly $166,000 in cash the vehicle was transporting from dispensaries in Kansas City, Missouri, to a credit union in Colorado.

The U.S. attorney's office in Kansas then filed a civil forfeiture action against Empyrean on the grounds that the seized cash was traceable to sales of a substance that is illegal at the federal level.

The lawsuit accuses the Kansas sheriff's deputy and several deputies in California of conducting "pretextual" stops in concert with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The suit alleges that local law enforcement then turns the cash over to federal law enforcement for forfeiture proceedings that allow sharing of the seized assets.

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