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Judicial Reform Fourth Circuit

United States Court of Appeals: 4th Circuit

Pro Freedom
Total Judgeships: 

15 (0 vacancies)

Political Makeup: 

9 Dem – 6 GOP

Richmond, Virginia and Asheville, North Carolina
Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina


About The Court:

The Fourth Circuit Court was established on June 16, 1891 and is known as the most efficient of the 13 courts of appeals, taking an average of only 7 months to resolve each appeal. The Lewis F. Powell, Jr., U.S. Courthouse where the Court sits was one of only two buildings in the historic core of Richmond, Virginia, to survive the fire in 1865 that marked the evacuation of the Confederate Army during the last days of the Civil War. The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is always assigned to the Fourth Circuit as the circuit advisory justice, due to Richmond's close proximity to Washington, D.C.


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Officer Allowed to Place GPS on Car Without Warrant

Tue, 08/19/2014

United States v. Stephens: Without a warrant, a law enforcement officer installed a battery-powered GPS device under the rear bumper of defendant’s car. While this case was pending, the Supreme Court found in US v. Jones that government instillation of a GPS on a vehicle to monitor its’ movements constitutes a “search” within the scope of the Fourth Amendment. The district court ruled that the search of defendant’s vehicle and seizure of evidence was unconstitutional; however, district court ruled that the exclusionary rule did not apply for this evidence because the officer “acted in good faith” in placing the GPS. The Circuit court ruled on the question of whether the district court was correct in rejecting to apply to exclusionary rule to this evidence.


The circuit court sided with the district court, ruling the exclusionary rule does not apply and affirming Stephen's conviction

Read the full decision here

Change in Pension Plans a Potential Violation of the Takings Clause

Wed, 08/06/2014

Cherry, Jr. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore City: After the city changed the way that pension plans are calculated, redefining cost-of-living adjustments to “variable benefits”, a group of retired Baltimore police officers sued on the basis that the change to their pensions violates the Contract Clause and Takings Clause. The lower courts ruled in favor of the City because the officers could turn to state law to find remedy.


The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the lower court and remanded for further proceedings. The Court ruled that there is a basis for a Takings Clause claim but also established that the ordinance change at issue can be upheld. The decision of the Court to remand the case, however, insures due process and holds the city accountable for changing the terms of contracts for public employees.

Read the full decision here

Virginia Cannot Nullify the Laws of Other States

Mon, 07/28/2014

Bostic v. Schaefer: Plaintiffs challenged a variety of Virginia laws which prohibit State-recognition of same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, effectively nullifying their laws. They claimed that the laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court supported the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and concluded that Virginia should not enforce these laws.


The Fourth Circuit Court affirmed the district court’s decision. The court concluded that appeals to tradition and federalism were not strong enough to ignore the requirement for equal protection under the law. The Virginia laws violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

Read the full decision here

"No" Means No With Vehicle Searches

Wed, 06/11/2014

USA v Dawud Ali Saafir: Saafir was pulled over for speeding and was determined by the officer to be an armed and dangerous person. The officer tried to talk Saafir, a felon, into allowing a search of his vehicle, which Saafir denied. Seeing a flask in the door, the officer searched the car, claiming probable cause for alcohol being in the vehicle. Even after the search, there was no evidence of alcohol. The police found a pistol in the car and indicted Saafir for his possession of it. Saafir appealed to the Court stating the police had no probable cause to search his vehicle.


The 4th Circuit Court reversed the District Court’s denial of motion, vacated the defendant’s conviction, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Read the full decision here

Federal Government Asserts Rights over Energy Rates

Mon, 06/02/2014

PPL EnergyPlus, LLC v. Nazarian. Maryland subsidized a program to establish a new power plant which would affect electricity rates. EnergyPlus filed suit arguing that the power plant is not allowed because of the restrictions set by the Federal Power’s Act, which gives the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) power over interstate electricity rates. By establishing this power plant, Maryland oversteps the power of the FERC. The District Court decided that the Maryland power plant and its subsidized program are prevented under the Federal Powers Act, ruling in favor of EnergyPlus.


The 4th Circuit Court upheld the decision of the lower court, affirming the power of the FERC.

Read the full decision here

Privacy for the Dead?

Thu, 05/15/2014

Joseph P. Frankenberry v. FBI. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the government has to protect the privacy of citizens that are alive when dealing with the public release of government documents. Frankenberry filed suit stating that the FBI did not do adequate research in determining the living status of non-FBI employees when clearing documents for release. The District Court issued a summary judgment in favor of the FBI stating that the FBI did reasonable research based on the limited information they have at their disposal.


The Circuit Court upheld the decision, stating that the FBI acted reasonably in order to protect the privacy interests of individuals, even considering that the information that they were acting off of was limited.

Read the full decision here

Should Candidates Have an Opinion?

Wed, 05/14/2014

Smith v. Gilchrist, III: Smith, an assistant district attorney (ADA) filed suit against Gilchrist, an elected district attorney (DA) for firing Smith when Smith expressed opinions during his candidacy about a driving program that had potential negative affects on the DA office’s efficiency. Smith argued that he was fired for practicing his 1st Amendment Rights. The District Court granted summary judgment against Smith stating that the DA had a right to fire him based on his public comments.


The Fourth Circuit Court reversed and remanded. It states that in the situation where Smith was a candidate for public office, the statements he made were not unreasonable stated with the intention to hold his personal opinions above government efficiency. The court determined that it is the right of an ADA running for public office not to be fired for speaking publicly on matters of public concern.

Read the full decision here

Police Allowed to Enter Due to Mental Instability

Wed, 05/07/2014

Myron Williams v. City of Scranton, et al. Two SPD officers followed B. Williams into her apartment after she showed signs of being mentally unstable. After obtaining a kitchen knife and threatening the officers, she was shot and killed. William’s parents filed suit arguing the city did not offer adequate officer training in relation to dealing with mentally unstable individuals. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the SPD officers, asserting that the outcome of the case is obvious and does not need to go through a full trial.


The Fourth Circuit Court upheld the decision, ruling in favor of the actions of the SPD officers and the City of Scranton. This decision asserts that the current training officers receive in order to deal with individuals they encounter in the field is sufficient.

Read the full decision here

Probable Cause More Clearly Defined

Thu, 05/01/2014

Joseph Ollie v. James Brown. Ollie was pulled over in his van under suspicion of being involved in a local burglary. He was arrested and a warrant was obtained to search his van resulting in his conviction of multiple crimes. Ollie filed suit stating the officers had no probable cause to pull over his vehicle. The District Court ruled that probable cause justly applied to the actions of the officers for the victims of the burglary had provided an exact description of Ollie’s van and license plate number. In addition, evidence inside the van connected him to the scene of the crime.


Upon a review of the facts, the Circuit Court upheld the decision and dismissed Ollie’s complaint.

Read the full decision here