Welcome to This Week in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
At the federal level, the Trump administration announced this week that medical professionals will be allowed to invoke religious and conscientious objections to rendering certain services and procedures, including abortions. At the state level, a number of developments occurred this week in Minnesota. Former Minneapolis police officer, Mohamed Noor, was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk (also known as Justine Damond), whose family just agreed to a $20 million settlement with the city of Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter for the 2016 shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota.
Under a new rule introduced by the Trump administration, medical professionals will be empowered to invoke religious or conscientious objections as justification for refusing to perform certain services and procedures, including abortions. The rule, which builds on existing protections guaranteed by Congress, is part of an effort by the Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services to integrate religious freedom into its mission. (NPR)
Former Minneapolis police officer, Mohamed Noor, was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the shooting of Justine Ruszczyk (also known as Justine Damond) in 2017. Noor testified that a bang and the sight of Ruszczyk with her arm raised made him fear for his and his partner’s lives. The prosecution countered that Ruszczyk, who was in her pajamas, could not have reasonably constituted a threat. Noor’s conviction is thought to be the first of an on-duty officer in Minnesota’s history. (MPR)
Shortly after this conviction, Minneapolis agreed to $20 million settlement with the family of Justine Damond. Damond was shot and killed in 2017 by former police officer Mohamed Noor. (NBC)
Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter in connection with the shooting of Philando Castile. Yanez stopped Castile on July 6, 2016 during a traffic stop in Minnesota. Castile informed Yanez that he had a firearm, which he was permitted to carry. At trial, Yanez testified that he feared for his life, believing that Castile was reaching for his firearm instead of his wallet, as justification for shooting Castile seconds after their exchange. (CNN)
A federal court determined that Ohio’s congressional map, which was drawn by Republican state representatives in 2011, was designed “to disadvantage Democratic voters and entrench Republican representatives in power.” The Court struck down the map, which it dismissed it as “an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander,” setting up yet another instance in which the Supreme Court might be asked to settle the constitutionality of a congressional map. (NPR)
Nearly two years after President Trump announced that he would withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would bind the United States to the agreement. The historic 2015 agreement joined 190 nations in a global effort to mitigate the effects of climate change through setting emissions reduction standards for greenhouse gases. (The Washington Post)
After Brenda Smith was sentenced to 40 days in the Aroostook County Jail, she was told that she would be unable to continue her opioid addiction treatment. Smith, with help from the ACLU of Maine, insisted that denying her access to treatment amounted to violations of both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 8th Amendment. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit agreed. The decision is expected to have significant consequences for Smith and other incarcerated Americans struggling with opioid use disorder. (NPR)
The Trump administration requested that the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit strike down the Affordable Care Act. This request comes months after U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, although the law has been the subject of relentless attack from Republicans for years. The case before the Fifth Circuit is an appeal of Judge O’Connor’s decision. (The Huffington Post)
According to an annual survey sponsored by the Pentagon, reports of sexual assault among military service members has increased by 13 percent compared to last year and 37 percent compared to two years ago. Only around a third of respondents reported that they had filed a formal complaint, which is unsurprising given that 21 percent of women respondents reported that they had experienced some form of retribution after reporting a sexual assault. (Time)
The Alabama House passed a bill that would render performing an abortion a criminal act. Although women who obtain abortions will not incur criminal liability, the doctors that perform them could face a maximum of 99 years if convicted. The bill is expected to easily pass the Alabama Senate. State representative Terri Collins, the architect of the bill, stated that the bill recognizes that “[w]hen a woman is pregnant, an abortion is no longer legal.” This obvious contradiction of Roe v. Wade sets up the possibility that the Supreme Court will be called upon once again to decide the constitutionality of abortion. (NPR)