Year in Review 2013: Highlights From the Fourth Circuit

By William Peacock, Esq. on January 09, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

While fellow FindLaw-er Gabriella Khorasanee may play favorites with the Second Circuit, for me, nothing beats the Fourth.

Why? (Not quite) obscene park ranger gropings. Lots of important Second Amendment issues, including concealed carry of guns. The South trying to rise again and failing -- twice. And, of course, the greatest law school in the history of all law schools, which recently came in second to some other Virginia law school in Above the Law's Insider rankings (take that, Stanford!), is located in the heart of the Fourth Circuit.

Looking for a microcosm of the biggest issues in American law? This year, the Fourth Circuit docket was stuffed with gun regulations, free speech, and stuff that we don't like to talk about in polite company.

Fourth Circuit in the News

While many of my personal favorite posts dealt with purely-local issues, such as Lexington, Virginia's closing of their flag standards to prevent locals from hanging Confederate flags, the circuit made national headlines as well.

The Fourth got its own dose of NSA litigation, when secure email service provider Lavabit chose to shut down rather than hand over the keys to all of its users' accounts. Lavabit, by the way, was the provider of choice for Edward Snowden. A challenge to the secret legal proceedings that led to the shutdown is pending on the docket.

The oft-debated journalist privilege (or reporter's shield) hit the Fourth Circuit docket multiple times. In the end, the court refused to recognize a common law reporter's privilege. An en banc rehearing was denied over a vigorous dissent by Judge Gregory, who noted that forty-nine of the fifty states, plus D.C., all have some form of reporter's privilege.

And who can forget that time that gubernatorial candidate Ken Cucinelli would not give up on the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law, and fought for the overly-broad statute all the way to the Supreme Court's trashbin.

Cases Headed to SCOTUS

This is short. The Fourth was shut out of initial cert. grants, and to date, only one case has made it to the nation's high court: Abramski v. United States.

In that case, the Fourth Circuit took an (overly) literal interpretation of federal gun laws to label a guy, who bought a gun for his uncle, and transferred it legally, as a "straw purchaser," since, at the time of purchase, he had no intent of keeping the gun. Oral arguments are set for January 22, per SCOTUSblog.

Cases That Make You Go Hmmmm .....

Absurdity abounded in the Fourth this year. The park ranger case, where a ranger tried to hit on a man in a park as part of an obscenity sting operation, and received a groping, was pretty amazing. The Cuccinelli quest for sodomy laws began with a guy making legal history after requesting sexual favors from a teenager. (It wasn't his first conviction, either.)

And finally, there was the prisoner who made Supreme Court history, and was left with $2.40 in damages to cover a $92,306.25 legal bill.

Stay tuned in 2014. As always, we'll be around to cover the absurd, the landmarks, and the guns. Definitely, the guns. And if we missed one of your favorites from 2013, let us know on Facebook.

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