Citizen Can’t Challenge Court’s Ban on Cellphones

     CINCINNATI (CN) — A Michigan man cannot challenge a county’s policy to ban all electronic devices, including cellphones, from courtrooms and related facilities, the Sixth Circuit ruled.
     Robert McKay claimed Saginaw County’s ban was unconstitutional, but a panel of judges upheld the Eastern Michigan Federal Court’s dismissal of his lawsuit.
     The county’s chief judges instituted the ban in December 2013 to “stop the use of audio and video recordings being taken by the public and released to identify or harass witnesses,” according to court documents.
     McKay wanted to record courtroom proceedings on his iPhone. He sued Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel and Lt. Randy Pfau in January 2014, claiming the device ban infringed on his First, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.
     Notably, the policy grants judges the authority to exempt certain individuals from the restrictions, and McKay admitted he had not requested an exemption.
     U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington denied McKay’s request for an injunction and eventually dismissed the case after he ruled that “McKay failed to show any legally cognizable injury and therefore lacked constitutional standing to bring any of his asserted causes of action,” court records show.
     On Friday, Judge Jane Stranch agreed with the lower court, and wrote in her Sixth Circuit opinion that McKay failed to demonstrate a “credible threat of prosecution” under the electronics ban, which “provides for exemptions on a case-by-case basis.”
     McKay argued that signs posted in and around the courthouse notifying the public of the electronics ban are a sufficient threat of enforcement, but the three-judge panel disagreed.
     “[T]he signs in the present case address the general public, not McKay specifically or any of his past conduct, and the signs also reference the possibility of an exemption by judicial permission,” Stranch wrote for the panel.
     The panel also dismissed McKay’s argument that the ban is unconstitutionally vague because it includes the phrase “related common areas” but fails to specify what the phrase means.
     “[A] plain reading of the order suggests that ‘related common areas’ at a minimum includes the areas ‘just outside the publicly-open courtrooms’ where McKay also allegedly intends to record,” Stranch wrote. “The electronic device order therefore clearly covers McKay’s proposed conduct, depriving him of standing to challenge the order on vagueness grounds.”
     The panel also included Sixth Circuit Judge Bernice Donald and First Circuit Judge Kermit Lipez, sitting by designation.

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