Saturday, September 20, 2003

Sixth Circuit

An interesting Sixth Circuit decision -- Hood v. Keller -- came out a couple of weeks ago. I didn't write about it at the time, for the simple reason that it hadn't come to my attention.

James Hood is a Christian pastor who likes to preach and hand out religious literature on the grounds of the Ohio statehouse. Unfortunately, he did so without securing the legally-mandated permit from the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board. Thus, on one occasion, he was arrested and charged with trespass in Ohio state court. He argued that the permit requirement was unconstitutional under the First Amendment, but lost. So the state court fined him $100.

Hood then decided to file a complaint in the federal district court for the Southern District of Ohio. There, he again raised the argument that the permit requirement violated the First Amendment.

The district court didn't consider the First Amendment argument, and instead threw out the case because of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. (This is the doctrine that says that after you lose in a state court, you can't appeal to a lower federal court.)

The Sixth Circuit disagreed, saying that Hood was not seeking to have his $100 fine reversed. Rather, he was seeking a declaratory judgment that the permit requirement was unconstitutional, and an injunction against future enforcement of that requirement. Therefore, he wasn't "appealing" the state court judgment at all. Because he was seeking relief aimed at the future, he was in the same position as any other litigant seeking to challenge a state law on First Amendment grounds. The Sixth Circuit then remanded the case to district court for further analysis on the First Amendment claims.

I think this was the right outcome. Rooker-Feldman shouldn't apply so as to prevent someone from challenging a state law just because he was prosecuted under that state law at some point in the past. To the contrary, someone like Hood should have an even more substantial claim that his rights might be violated by future enforcement.


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