TN: Sixth Circuit vacates sweeping injunction against Tennessee sex offender registry laws

Source: courthousenews.com 5/15/24

The appeals court panel ordered a federal judge to review the statutory scheme one requirement at a time to determine if any portion violates the ex post facto clause of the Constitution.

CINCINNATI (CN) — The entirety of Tennessee’s sex offender registry law cannot be thrown out because a handful of requirements may be unconstitutional, the Sixth Circuit ruled Wednesday.

In its decision the court vacated an injunction granted by U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger and asked the Clinton appointee to tailor relief for a class of convicted sex offenders to target only the registry requirements that do not pass constitutional muster.

A class of sex offenders convicted before 1995 sued the state in 2021. They say recent changes to registry requirements violate their constitutional rights, including increased registration fees; the exclusion of sex offenders within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds; and a prohibition on their working or living within 1,000 feet of a school.

Trauger agreed with the class and granted its request for an injunction to invalidate the entire statutory scheme, which led to an appeal from Republican Governor Bill Lee and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch.

On Wednesday, the three-judge panel that heard the case in December 2023 dismissed Lee from the action, having determined he is not in a position to enforce the challenged laws despite what the plaintiffs called his “general duty to uphold the law.”

“While it is true that the governor possesses power as the chief executive to remove employees from their posts, or at least to initiate such proceedings, this does not give him a role in the enforcement of individual criminal laws beyond his general ‘take care’ duty,” Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Eugene Siler wrote for the panel.

“Plaintiffs’ argument is simply another way of invoking the governor’s general executive powers, which are insufficient alone to confer standing.”

The class also failed to properly trace any injury to Lee, the court ruled, and could not suggest any order the court could give to Lee that would grant them relief.

Siler, a George H.W. Bush appointee, wrote that while the class has standing to pursue its constitutional claims against Rausch, “the Supreme Court has found that retroactive laws requiring sex offenders to report to law enforcement and register are constitutional.”

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This is so discouraging. Otherwise intelligent people ruling that these registries and restrictions after a sentence is served are not unconstitutional tells me the registry will never fall. People just can’t get beyond whatever stigma is in their heads even with evidence, logic, and basic reason. And when one finally does speak up, the others overturn it.

I’m done!! Another F in lose!! Like I will die on this list!! I can’t keep doing this! One state says it’s unconstitutional and then another state says nope we don’t care we think it is cause hey it’s civil not punishment!! My life is worthless! I can’t keep having hopes and prayers it will end. I’m hopeless, just giving up

That is depressing,
Sounds like en banc is the next move?

This wasn’t a loss. These litigants took away some restrictions for people whose offense date precedes 2004. It is like the earlier Does decision in Michigan. It will take more litigation in Tennessee to get registrants relief. For the registrants in Tennessee whose offense date predates 2004, they are beginning to see some relief, which is a start.

This is disappointing. More Judicial justifications for this unnecessary, counterproductive, cruel and unusual revenge system. A system that not only provides no benefits of any kind, but makes things more dangerous for everyone.

I fear that, in the long run, all PFRs are still going to have to follow every rule. Even if going to the park is OK for a PFR because they have an exemption from this restriction based on their year of conviction, they will still risk being harassed by other park goers, and/or arrested by the police.

No way America’s army of self appointed Sheriffs let someone they know if a PFR be at the park, just because some judge said this PFR is allowed to because they were convicted before 19xx.

Then there is the absurdity of that idea! I don’t get to go to the park because I was convicted in 1996, but this other PFR does because he was convicted in1995? So for him it’s punishment, but with me it’s just a Civil Regulatory Scheme? How? How is that possible? I agree he shouldn’t be barred from parks for the rest of his life, that would be cruel and unusual… like it is for me!

So we know for a divinely infallible fact, that allowing me to go is, “Too dangerous”, but not for him based exclusively on our year of conviction? How exactly is that possible to know with absolute certainly?

Then we remember, it doesn’t matter! The State gets to do whatever they want, so long as they tell the court a spooky campfire story about the horrors that will befall the people if they don’t get to… whatever. Doesn’t have to be real… doesn’t have to make sense… doesn’t even have to pretend to be Rational… so long as the campfire story is spooky enough!

I’m not surprised by this move.Republicans and democracts always do this to registered citizens in a election year.i don’t vote because we have no voice in this country. I only have God, my family and you guys.

I still say that all these State motions are basically ineffective. The registry scheme has to be challenged at the Federal level. Judgments have to be issued at that level. It has to be taken to the USSC at that level. Otherwise we are just beating our heads against the wall. This is when I absolutely despise (State’s rights). Every state wants to put its spin on something that affects the nation as a whole. I don’t even understand why there exist 51 registries. 50 different state systems and one federal. It’s moronic at best and illustrates America’s love for moral panic. One incredibly ineffective money sink.

Perhaps I have not seen this issue raised but why is there no argument about the deprivation of the Interstate Commerce clause. Each state has its own scheme and most of those schemes deprive an individual of their right to travel and conduct interstate commerce. (I.e. Go on vacation and buy gifts and souvenirs in another state) Then the argument becomes this is a national issue and all oversight should be handled by the federal government because we all have an FBI number and there is always the issue of interstate transit whether for work or pleasure. (I.e. Someone lives in Kansas City Kansas but works in Kansas City Missouri so that individual is governed by the laws of 2 individual states)
If this registry is forced to be governed by only the federal government the hodge podge of individual suits in different states becomes a singular focused defendant, the attorney general of the United States and director of the FBI.

I suggest actually reading the ruling. While upholding the district court would have been ideal it’s still a favorable ruling for us in my opinion. It effectively left in place the MI Does v Snyder ruling in applying it to the TN scheme. It directs the district court to sever the unconstitutional parts for those it would apply to. Most importantly it seems to acknowledge that most provisions added that aren’t consistent with the original Smith v. Doe ruling and other previous 6th circuit rulings they deemed constitutional are still unconstitutional and those such provisions can not be applied retroactively. It is especially encouraging that they still acknowledge that a tier system without an individual assessment (as written about in Does v. Snyder) is still unconstitutional – although it appears that might require a suit be filed against a different party for that.