Archives: Commentary

Supreme Court Accepts First Amendment Retaliatory Arrest Case

Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach is a double redux. The Supreme Court ruled on this case in 2013 on a maritime issue. The Court agreed to decide the issue this case presents in 2011, but ultimately failed to rule on it then.

What if a police officer arrests someone in retaliation for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment but the officer also had probable cause to arrest that person for a different, legitimate reason? In Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach the Supreme Court will decide whether that person may sue the police officer for violating his or her First Amendment rights. Continue reading

 

Is the Third Travel Ban Likely to be Reviewed by the Supreme Court?

If Attorney General Jeff Sessions has his way the answer will be yes he told the Senate Judiciary Committee shortly after two federal district courts temporarily prevented the third travel ban from going into effect.

The president’s March 6 executive order (the second travel ban) prevented people from six predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days. In June, the Supreme Court temporarily prevented the ban from going into effect against those with a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United State” until the Court could hear the case on the merits in early October.

The second travel ban was set to expire on September 24. That day the President issued a presidential proclamation (the third travel ban) indefinitely banning immigration from six countries:  Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, and Yemen. Persons from some of these countries and Venezuela also may not receive particular non-immigrant visas. Following the presidential proclamation, the Supreme Court dismissed the case challenging the second travel ban.

Shortly before the third travel ban was supposed to go into effect federal district courts in Hawaii and Maryland issued temporary injunctions blocking it.

Continue reading

 

South Dakota Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Accept Sales Tax Case

South Dakota has filed a petition in South Dakota v. Wayfair asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to its law requiring out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax.

In Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992), the Supreme Court held that states cannot require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect sales tax.

In March 2015, Justice Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion stating that the “legal system should find an appropriate case for this Court to reexamine Quill.” Justice Kennedy criticized Quill in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl for many of the same reasons the State and Local Legal Center stated in its amicus brief. Specifically, internet sales have risen astronomically since 1992 and states and local governments are unable to collect most taxes due on sales from out-of-state vendors.

Following the Kennedy opinion a number of state legislatures passed legislation requiring remote vendors to collect sales tax. South Dakota’s law is the first to be ready for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. In September the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled that the South Dakota law is unconstitutional because it clearly violates Quill and it is up to the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule it.  Continue reading

 

Supreme Court Accepts Two Car Search Cases

At the Supreme Court’s “long conference,” where it decides which petitions—that have been piling up all summer—to accept, the Court agreed to hear two unrelated cases involving car searches.

Per the Fourth Amendment police officers generally need a warrant to search a car. However,  the automobile exception allows officers to search a car that is “readily mobile” without a warrant if officers have probable cause to believe they will find contraband or a crime has been committed.

 Collins v. Virginia raises the question of whether the automobile exception applies to a car that is parked on private property. Continue reading

 

Supreme Court to Hear Significant Public Sector Union Dues Case (Again)

In 2016, the Supreme Court was expected to overrule a nearly 40-year old precedent requiring public sector employees who don’t join the union to pay their “fair share” of collective bargaining costs. Justice Scalia died shortly after the Court heard oral argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The Court ultimately issued a 4-4 decision which, practically speaking, kept Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) on the books.

With a ninth Justice now on the bench the Supreme Court has agreed to try again to decide whether to overturn Abood in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. More than 20 states authorize fair share for public sector employees.

In Abood the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment does not prevent “agency shop” arrangements where public employees who do not join the union are still required to pay their “fair share” of union dues for collective-bargaining, contract administration, and grievance-adjustment. The rationale for an agency fee is that the union may not discriminate between members and nonmembers in performing these functions. So, no free-riders are allowed. Continue reading

 

Federal District Court Rejects Obama Overtime Rule

A federal district judge in Texas has invalidated Obama overtime regulations which would have made it more likely states and local governments would have had to pay more employees overtime.

Per the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), executive, administrative, and professional “white collar” employees do not have to be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week. Per Department of Labor (DOL) regulations, adopted shortly after the FLSA was adopted in 1938, employees must perform specific duties and earn a certain salary to be exempt from overtime as white collar employees.

On May 23, 2016, DOL issued final rules nearly doubling the previous salary level test for white collar employees from $455 per week, or $23,660 per year, to $913 per week, or $47,476 per year. The rules also automatically updates the salary level every three years for white collar employees.

According to the Judge Mazzant, DOL does not have the authority to adopt a salary test that effectively eliminates the duties test, which is what the final rule does. The text of the final rule explicitly says that those earning less than $913 will be eligible for overtime “irrespective of their job duties and responsibilities.” The court likewise concluded that the automatic updating mechanism is unlawful.  Continue reading

 

Supreme Court Accepts Prisoner Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Case

In an unusual move, the Supreme Court accepted a case during its summer recess.  Like most of its docket, this case will affect states and local governments.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) states that when an inmate recovers money damages in a confinement conditions case “a portion of the judgment (not to exceed 25 percent)” shall be applied to his or her attorney’s fees award. The question the Supreme Court will decide in Murphy v. Smith is whether “not to exceed 25 percent” means up to 25 percent or exactly 25 percent.

A jury awarded inmate Charles Murphy about $300,000 in damages relating to an officer crushing his eye socket and leaving him unconscious in a cell without checking his condition.

The trial judge awarded Murphy’s attorney about $100,000 in fees and allocated 10 percent of Murphy’s damages award to attorney’s fees (about $30,000). Continue reading

 

SLLC Files Supreme Court Amicus Brief in Statute of Limitations Case Involving a City

Federalism cases raise legal issues big and small, pedestrian and esoteric.

The very simple question in Artis v. District of Columbia is what does it mean for a statute of limitations to “toll” under 28 U.S.C 1367(d)? The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed a Supreme Court amicus brief agreeing with the District of Columbia’s interpretation of “toll.”

A year after the fact, Stephanie Artis sued the District of Columbia in federal court bringing a number of federal and state law claims related to her termination as a code inspector. It took the federal district court over two and a half years to rule on her claims. It dismissed her sole federal claim as “facially deficient” and no longer had jurisdiction to decide the state law claims.

28 U.S.C 1367(d) states that statutes of limitations for state law claims pending in federal court shall be “tolled” for a period of 30 days after they are dismissed (unless state law provides a longer tolling period).

While Artis was waiting for the federal district court to rule, the three-year statutes of limitations on all her state law claims passed. She waited 59 days to re-file her claims in state court after the federal district court dismissed her case.

Was her claim timely? The District of Columbia Court of Appeals held no.   Continue reading

 

SLLC Files Supreme Court Amicus Brief in Voter Roll Maintenance Case

Maintaining accurate voter rolls means walking a fine line.

 In Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute the Supreme Court will decide whether federal law allows states and local governments to remove people from the voter rolls if the state or local government sends them a confirmation notice after they haven’t voted for two years, they don’t respond to the notice, and then they don’t vote in the next four years.

 While Ohio is being sued in this case, twelve other states use a similar process. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case supporting Ohio.

 The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) says that roll maintenance procedures “shall not result in” people being removed from the polls for failure to vote. The Help America Vote Act modified the NVRA to say that states may remove voters if they don’t respond to a confirmation notice and don’t vote in the next two federal election cycles. Continue reading

 

States and Local Governments Win Takings Case

Good news for local governments with “merger” ordinances: you can keep them on the books.

 It has been a number of years since states and local governments have won a property rights case. But in Murr v. Wisconsin the Supreme Court concluded 5-3 that no taking occurred where state law and local ordinances “merged” nonconforming, adjacent lots under common ownership, meaning the property owners could not sell one of the lots by itself. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), filed an amicus brief, which the Court cited two times, arguing that these very common provisions are constitutional. 

 The Murrs owned contiguous lots E and F, which together are .98 acres. Lot F contained a cabin and lot E was undeveloped. State law and a St. Croix County merger ordinance prohibit the individual development or sale of adjacent lots under common ownership that are less than one acre total. A grandfather clause allows for the sale and development of separately owned substandard lots purchased before the statute and ordinance went into effect.

     The Murrs sought and were denied a variance to sell Lot E to finance moving the cabin on Lot F. They claimed the ordinance resulted in an unconstitutional uncompensated taking. Continue reading

 

Supreme Court to Rule on Travel Ban

On its last opinion day of the term, the Supreme Court announced that it would rule on the constitutionality of the Trump administration’s revised travel ban. In the meantime, to the extent the executive order prevents foreign nationals and refugees “who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” from entering the United States, it may go into effect until the Supreme Court rules on the merits of this case.

The president’s first executive order prevented people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days, froze decisions on refugee applications for 120 days, and capped total refugee admissions at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017.

The Ninth Circuit temporarily struck it down, concluding this executive order was not religion-neutral, and that it likely violated the due process rights of lawful permanent residents, nonimmigrant visa holders, and refugees.

The president’s second executive order prevents people from six predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days, but only applies to new visa applicants and allows for case-by-case waivers, and contains the same provisions regarding refugees as the original travel ban.

The Fourth Circuit concluded the revised travel ban likely violates the Establishment Clause, noting that its “text speaks with vague words of national security but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.” It temporarily prevented the portion of the executive order regarding admission to the United States for 90 days from going into effect.

The Ninth Circuit concluded that the revised travel ban likely exceeds the power granted to the President by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act. It temporarily prevented all of the provisions mentioned above from going into effect, including those affecting refugees. Continue reading

 

Supreme Court to Consider Constitutionality of Partisan Gerrymandering

In Gill v. Whitford the Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether and when it is possible to bring a claim that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional.

While the Court has repeatedly struck down district maps that rely on racial gerrymandering, it has never ruled that maps drawn to secure partisan advantage are unconstitutional. In 2004, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy – who may be the deciding vote in Whitford – wrote a concurring opinion indicating that partisan gerrymandering could be unconstitutional.

In 2011, Wisconsin legislators redrew state assembly districts to reflect population changes recorded in the 2010 census. Map makers used a model designed to predict the likelihood that various proposed districts would elect a Republican. In the 2015 election, Republican candidates received less than 49% of the statewide vote and won seats in more than 60% of the state’s assembly districts; and, in 2014, 52 percent of the vote yielded 63 seats for Republicans.

The challengers propose a standard for determining the influence of partisan gerrymandering in the district-drawing process. Drawn from a 2015 article written by a University of Chicago law professor and a lawyer for the challengers, the standard is based on “wasted votes”–votes in each district cast for a non-winning party’s candidate. By dividing the difference between the sums of each party’s wasted votes by the total number of votes cast, the proposed standard yields an efficiency gap. Continue reading

 

Travel Ban Headed to the Supreme Court?

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to review the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision temporarily preventing the President’s revised travel ban from going into effect. Numerous states supported both side as amici in the litigation. Numerous local governments supported the challengers.

 The President’s first executive order prevented people from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days. The Ninth Circuit temporarily struck it down concluding it likely violated the due process rights of lawful permanent residents, non-immigrant visa holders, and refugees.

 The President’s second executive order prevents people from six predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days but only applies to new visa applicants and allows for case-by-case waivers.  Continue reading

 

North Carolina Loses Supreme Court Redistricting Case

North Carolina has had a tough time in the Supreme Court in the last two weeks. Last week the Court refused to review the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision holding that North Carolina’s voter ID law is unconstitutional and violates the Voting Rights Act. This week it concluded two congressional districts are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

Cooper v. Harris raises an issue litigated over and over since the 2010 census. Challengers claim the North Carolina legislature unconstitutionally packed minority voters into a few legislative districts to lessen their ability to influence races in other districts. The Supreme Court agreed, holding 5-3 that a North Carolina District Court correctly ruled that North Carolina relied too heavily on race in designing two majority-minority congressional districts. Continue reading

 

Supreme Court Tentatively Allows City Claims Against Banks for Discriminatory Lending to Proceed

The glass is more than half full after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bank of America v. Miami , but not as full as local governments would like. The Supreme Court could have completely shut down local government lawsuits against banks for discriminatory lending practices—but it didn’t. The Supreme Court also could have made it easier for local governments to prove these cases—but it didn’t.

In Bank of America v. Miami , the Supreme Court held 5-3 that local governments have “standing” to bring Fair Housing Act (FHA) lawsuits against banks alleging discriminatory lending practices. But to win these claims local governments must show that their injuries were more than merely foreseeable. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case on the side of the City of Miami.    Continue reading

 

Sanctuary Jurisdictions Executive Order Struck Down

A federal district court has issued a nationwide preliminary injunction preventing the Trump administration from enforcing the sanctuary jurisdictions portion of the Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States executive order (EO).

The court was asked to accept two very different versions of what this EO means to determine whether it had jurisdiction to hear this case. The most important dispute between the parties is how much federal funding is on the line. The judge chose the Santa Clara and San Francisco version, accusing the Department of Justice (DOJ) of trying to “read out all of Section 9(a)’s unconstitutional directives to render it an ominous, misleading, and ultimately toothless threat.”

Section 9 of the EO says that jurisdictions that refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 are ineligible to receive federal grants. On its face, Section 1373 prohibits local governments from restricting employee communication of immigration status information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Continue reading

 

Seventh Circuit Holds Employees May Bring Sexual Orientation Employment Discrimination Claims

The Seventh Circuit has become the first federal circuit court of appeals to rule that employees may bring sexual orientation discrimination claims under Title VII. This case directly affects state and local governments in their capacity as employers in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of a person’s “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

Kimberly Hively is openly lesbian. She sued Ivy Tech Community College where she taught as a part-time, adjunct professor. She applied for at least six full-time positions between 2009 and 2014, didn’t receive any of them, and in July 2014, her part-time contract was not renewed. She believes her sexual orientation is the reason.

The Seventh Circuit had long held that sexual orientation discrimination claims weren’t cognizable under Title VII. The court decided to revisit this conclusion “in light of developments at the Supreme Court extending over two decades.” These decisions include Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which granted same-sex couples a constitutional right to marry.  Continue reading

 

WOTUS to Stay at SCOTUS

The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to hold “in abeyance” litigation over whether a federal district court or a federal court of appeals has jurisdiction to rule whether the current 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) definitional rule violates the Clean Water Act. On April 2, 2017 the Supreme Court denied the motion, allowing the litigation to proceed.

President Trump’s February 28, 2017 executive order Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the “Waters of the United States” Rule calls for the “rescinding or revising” of the WOTUS rule. Many state and local governments objected to the broad nature of this rule, in particular to the expansive definition of ditches and the ambiguous definition of tributaries.  Continue reading

 

What Will Happen Now to the Clean Power Plan Litigation?

While President Trump’s executive order (EO) on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth merely calls for the “review” of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), it has been widely viewed as the President’s first step to dismantle President Obama’s signature climate change measure. The EO goes on to say that after review, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “if appropriate, shall, as soon as practicable, suspend, revise, or rescind the guidance, or publish for notice and comment proposed rules suspending, revising, or rescinding those rules.”

According to the CPP, by 2030 carbon pollution from the power sector is supposed to be 32 percent below 2005 levels. State-by-state targets are to be accomplished by increased production of renewable energy.

A number of states sued the Obama administration claiming the CPP regulations exceeded EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act. In February 2016, the Supreme Court prevented the CPP regulations from going into effect until the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (and the Supreme Court, if it chooses to) rules on the regulations. Continue reading

 

SCOTUS Rules Statute Banning Credit-Card Surcharges Regulates Speech

Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman is the Supreme Court’s first First Amendment free speech ruling since Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona (2015), where the Supreme Court defined content-based speech very broadly and held it is subject to strict (usually fatal) scrutiny. The Court didn’t cite to Reed in its opinion in this newly decided case.

The Court held unanimously that a New York statute prohibiting vendors from advertising a single price, and a statement that credit card customers must pay more, regulates speech under the First Amendment. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case arguing this law doesn’t violate the First Amendment because it regulates conduct rather than speech.

When customers pay with a credit card, merchants must pay a transaction fee to the credit card company. Some merchants want to pass this fee along to credit card customers. But a New York statute states that “[n]o seller in any sales transaction may impose a surcharge on a [credit card] holder who elects to use a credit card in lieu of payment by cash, check, or similar means.” Twelve states have adopted credit-card surcharge bans. Continue reading

 

Supreme Court Rejects Judge Gorsuch’s View of Special Education Law

The Supreme Court’s decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District was bad timing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch.

The Supreme Court held unanimously that public school districts must offer students with disabilities an individual education plan (IEP) “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

The Court rejected the Tenth Circuit’s holding that an IEP must merely confer “some educational benefit” that is “more than de minimis.”

This ruling came down while Judge Gorsuch was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Judge Gorsuch was the author of a 2008 opinion Continue reading

 

Gorsuch Confirmation Hearings and States and Local Governments: Days 1-3 Update

Confirmation hearings generally follow a predictable course; Judge Gorsuch’s hearings have been no exception. Senators from the other side of the aisle as the President ask the nominee pointed questions on controversial topics which the nominee does his or her best to politely avoid answering. As a result, many issues of interest to states and local governments receive little meaningful attention.

While a friendly Senator (Flake, R-AZ) asked Judge Gorsuch whether a particular case he ruled in was consistent with the “principle of states as laboratories of democracy” and another friendly Senator (Crapo, R-ID) asked Judge Gorsuch to discuss the Tenth Amendment, federalism was rarely discussed as such and preemption wasn’t discussed at all. Likewise, many of the issues of particular importance to local governments—qualified immunity and property rights—also were not discussed.

Judge Gorsuch did say Continue reading

 

One Step Closer to the Supreme Court Ruling on Quill

In  S. Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7669, a state trial court judge in South Dakota has ruled that a South Dakota law requiring remote sellers to collect sales tax is unconstitutional. This ruling was expected for precisely the reason the judge stated—a lower court must follow Supreme Court precedent.  

 In Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, decided in 1992, the Supreme Court held that states cannot require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect sales tax. The South Dakota law directly contradicts this precedent. Continue reading

 

Supreme Court Will Not Decide Transgender Bathroom Case

The Supreme Court will not decide—at least not this term—whether transgender students have a right to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity due to changes in position on this issue from the Obama to Trump administration.

Title IX prohibits school districts that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the basis of sex.” A Title IX regulation states if school districts maintain separate bathrooms (locker rooms, showers, etc.) “on the basis of sex” they must provide comparable facilities for the other sex.

In a 2015 letter the Department of Education (DOE) interpreted the Title IX regulation to mean that if schools provide for separate boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. DOE and the Department of Justice reaffirmed this stance in a May 2016 “Dear Colleague” letter.

On February 22, 2017, DOE issued a “Dear Colleague” letter withdrawing the previous letters. The new “Dear Colleague” letter takes no position on whether the term “sex” in Title IX includes gender identity.

G.G. is transgender. The Gloucester County School Board prevented him from using the boy’s bathroom. He sued the district arguing that is discriminated against him in violation of Title IX.

Continue reading

 

What Happens Now to Supreme Court Transgender Bathroom Case?

The fate of the most controversial case the Supreme Court has agreed to decide this term is uncertain now that the Department of Education (DOE) has issued a “Dear Colleague” letter withdrawing a previous letter requiring school districts to allow transgender students to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity.

Title IX prohibits school districts that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the basis of sex.” A Title IX regulation states if school districts maintain separate bathrooms (locker rooms, showers, etc.) “on the basis of sex” they must provide comparable facilities for the other sex. In a 2015 letter, DOE interpreted the Title IX regulation to mean that if schools provide for separate boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. The new “Dear Colleague” letter takes no position on whether the term “sex” in Title IX includes gender identity.

G.G. is biologically female but identifies as a male. The Gloucester County School Board prevented him from using the boys’ bathroom. He sued the district arguing that it discriminated against him in violation of Title IX. Continue reading

 

SCOTUS to Decide Whether Intervenors Must Have Standing

The Supreme Court accepts all kinds of cases involving states and local governments. Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates involves a long, complicated story and legal issue.

Steven Sherman sued the Town of Chester alleging an unconstitutional taking as the town refused to approve a subdivision on plots of land Sherman intended to sell to Laroe Estates. Laroe Estates advanced Sherman money for the land in exchange for a mortgage on the property. Sherman defaulted on a loan to a senior mortgage holder who foreclosed on the property.

Laroe Estates, claiming to be the owner of the property, sought to “intervene” in the takings lawsuit. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure grant the right to intervene to non-parties who “claim an interest relating to the property or transaction that is the subject of the action, and is so situated that disposing of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the movant’s ability to protect its interest, unless existing parties adequately represent that interest.” 

The district court concluded that Laroe Estates lacked Article III “standing” under the U.S. Constitution to assert a takings claim against the Town. Laroe Estates argued that it was a “contract vendee” of the Sherman property. According to the district court, under longstanding circuit court precedent “contract vendees lack standing to assert a takings claim.”

The question the Supreme Court will decide in Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates is whether Laroe Estates may intervene in this case even though it lacks standing.

Continue reading

 

Supreme Court to Define Contours of False Arrest Claims

What if a police officer arrests someone because the officer doesn’t believe the person is telling the truth and there is evidence the officer is right?

 In District of Columbia v. Wesby the Supreme Court will decide whether, when the owner of a vacant house informs police he has not authorized entry, an officer assessing probable cause to arrest those inside for trespassing may discredit the suspects’ claims of an innocent mental state.

 Facts similar to those in this case may not arise very often. But police officers must assess claims of innocence in numerous other instances (theft, assault, even homicide). 

 Police officers arrested a group of late-night partygoers for trespass. The party-goers gave police conflicting reasons for why they were at the house (birthday party v. bachelor party). Some said “Peaches” invited them to the house; others said they were invited by another guest. Police officers called Peaches who told them she gave the partygoers permission to use the house. But she admitted that she had no permission to use the house herself; she was in the process of renting it. The landlord confirmed by phone that Peaches hadn’t signed a lease. The partygoers were never charged with trespass.

 The partygoers sued the police officers for violating their Fourth Amendment right to be free from false arrest. To be guilty of trespass the partygoers had to have entered the house knowing they were doing so “against the will of the lawful occupant or of the person lawfully in charge.” The partygoers claimed they did not know they lacked permission to be in the house. 

Continue reading

 

Travel Ban: What’s Next?

On February 9 the Ninth Circuit refused to stay a district court’s temporary restraining order disallowing the President’s travel ban from going into effect. The executive order prevents people from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days.

 Washington and Minnesota sued President Trump claiming their public universities are harmed because students and faculty of the affected countries cannot travel for research, academic collaboration, or personal reasons. The residents of cities and counties and their families have been affected as well by this executive order.

 The government argued that the President has “unreviewable authority to suspend admissions of any class of aliens.” The Ninth Circuit disagreed stating: “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewablity, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.” 

 The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that the states are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the executive order violates the due process rights of lawful permanent residents, non-immigrant visa holders, and refugees. More specifically, the executive order provides no notice and hearing before restricting a person’s right to travel and “contravenes the procedures provided by federal statute for refugees seeking asylum.” Continue reading

 

What Might Justice Gorsuch Mean for States and Local Governments?

The authors of Searching for Scalia evaluated who on President Trump’s list of potential nominees to replace Justice Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court would be most like Justice Scalia—the originalist, the textualist, and, most importantly, the conservative. The winner:  Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch!

While just one case is too few to judge any Supreme Court nominee, one case in particular gives states and local governments a reason to be excited about this nomination. Last year Judge Gorsuch (strongly) implied that given the opportunity the U.S. Supreme Court should overrule Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992). In Quill, the Supreme Court held that states cannot require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect sales tax.

While Judge Gorsuch hasn’t ruled on abortion (an issue states care about) his most prominent rulings involve a related issue (the Affordable Care Act birth control mandate), which is not of particular interest to states and local governments.

Interestingly, in the one area of the law where the views of Judge Gorsuch and Justice Scalia differ—agency deference—the views of states and local governments are generally more in-line with Judge Gorsuch’s view.

Continue reading

 

SLLC Files Supreme Court Amicus Brief in Credit Card Swipe Fees Case

Is a Price Speech?

Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman, like most First Amendment cases, is about much more than its mere facts, here disallowing retailers to pass on credit-card swipe fees to consumers. It raises a more fundamental question over what exactly is speech.

The question the Supreme Court will decide in this case is whether state “no-surcharge” laws that prohibit vendors from charging more to credit-card customers but allows them to charge less to cash customers violate the First Amendment. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) amicus brief argues these laws don’t violate the First Amendment because they regulate conduct rather than speech. Continue reading

 

Police Officer Liability for Reasonable Force?

It is undisputed that police officers used reasonable force when they shot Angel Mendez. As officers entered, unannounced, the shack where Mendez was living they saw a silhouette of Mendez pointing what looked like a rifle at them. Yet, the Ninth Circuit awarded him and his wife damages because the officers didn’t have a warrant to search the shack thereby “provoking” Mendez.

(Mendez kept a BB gun in his bed to shot rats when they entered the shack. Mendez claimed that when the officers entered the shack he was in the process of moving the BB gun so he could sit up in bed.)

In
Los Angeles County v. Mendez the Supreme Court must decide whether to accept or reject the Ninth Circuit’s “provocation” rule. Per this rule, “Where an officer intentionally or recklessly provokes a violent confrontation, if the provocation is an independent Fourth Amendment violation, he may be held liable for his otherwise defensive use of deadly force.” Continue reading

 

Ohio Supreme Court Refuses to Extend Quill to a Business-Privilege Tax

In Crutchfield v. Testa the Ohio Supreme Court held that Ohio’s commercial activity tax (CAT) applies to online vendors even if they lack a physical presence in the state. More technically, the court refused to extend the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992), that states cannot require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect sales tax, to Ohio’s privilege-of-doing-business tax.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing in favor of this result. Continue reading

 

Supreme Court Accepts “Some” versus “Meaningful” Special Education Benefits Case

You don’t have to be a linguist to understand that there is a wide gap between the meaning of “some” and “meaningful.” The Supreme Court must pick between these words to determine what level of educational benefits students with a disabilities must receive.

The relevance of a special education case to local governments may not be obvious. But depending on how the Supreme Court rules, this case could mean cost increase for some, if not many, school districts. To the extent local governments fund local school districts and/or compete with them for limited state dollars, this case is relevant. Continue reading

 

Preemption Clause too Narrow? Expand it Via Regulations!

Every time a federal agency thinks the scope of a preemption clause in federal law is too narrow may it just write a regulation expanding it? That is the heart of the matter in Coventry Health Care of Missouri v. Nevils.

The question of most interest to state and local governments in this case, more technically, is whether Chevron deference applies to an agency’s regulation construing the scope of a statute’s express-preemption provision. Continue reading

 

SCOTUS Dismisses Case Involving State and Local Governments Ensuring Private Entities Comply with the ADA

In Texas, state law requires most people under age 25 to attend a state-licensed private driver education school to obtain a driver’s license. None of the schools accommodate deaf students. So a number of deaf students sued the Texas Education Agency (TEA) arguing it was required to bring the driver education schools into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).   

In Ivy v. Morath the Supreme Court was supposed to decide when state and local governments are responsible for ensuring that a private actor complies with the ADA. The Court dismissed the case concluding it was moot most likely because Texas claimed that four of the students suing completed the driver education course and one moved out of state. Continue reading

 

May Sex Offenders Be Banned From Using Social Networking Sites Like Facebook?

The Supreme Court keeps on accepting First Amendment cases—perhaps because among the current Court there is much agreement on the First Amendment, so being down a Justice doesn’t matter. This does not bode well for state and local governments, like North Carolina in this case. For better or worse, this case like Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman, accepted in September, gives the Supreme Court a chance to refine its holding in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona (2015).

Continue reading

 

SCOTUS Takes Qualified Immunity Case Arising out of 9/11 Investigations

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide cases accusing federal government officials at the highest levels of mistreating people investigated for possible terrorist connections after 9/11.

All Supreme Court qualified immunity cases, including Ziglar v. Turkmen, Ashcroft v. Turkmen, and Hasty v. Turkmen, affect state and local governments. These cases raise issues that frequently come up in run-of-the-mill qualified immunity cases, in particular, whether the court defined the “established law” at a high level of generality instead of considering the specific facts of the case when deciding whether to grant or deny qualified immunity.

Continue reading

 

Mesa v. Hernandez: A Qualified Immunity Quandary

Qualified immunity cases, generally speaking, could not be more straightforward for state and local governments. No matter how bad the facts of the case, one legal analysis is better.

Mesa v. Hernandez provides a qualified immunity quandary. If Agent Mesa wins his qualified immunity claim, other government officials in the future may lose their qualified immunity claims. 

  Continue reading

 

Remember Reed: Might Supreme Court Apply it to Commercial Speech?

The question the Supreme Court will decide in Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman is whether state “no-surcharge” laws that prohibit vendors from charging more to credit-card customers but allows them to charge less to cash customers violates the First Amendment.

Here is why this case matters to local governments: An amicus brief filed on behalf of a number of retailers asking the Court to hear this case and overturn the Second Circuit decision argues that the Court should use this case as an opportunity to rule that strict (almost always fatal) scrutiny should apply to restrictions on commercial speech per Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona (2015). In Reed the Supreme Court held that strict scrutiny applies to content-based restrictions on speech. In the Reed opinion, the Court did not extend its holding to the commercial speech context where states and local governments historically have had more latitude to regulate speech. Continue reading

 

How Broad is the Government Speech Doctrine?

Is Lee v. Tam a stretch, or perhaps a slant, for state and local governments to be interested in?

The issue in Lee v. Tam is whether Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, which bars the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, violates the First Amendment.

Continue reading

 

Supreme Court to Decide Appellate Court Level to Review EEOC Subpoenas

McLane v. EEOC is a case only an (employment) lawyer could love.

When the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigates allegations of employment discrimination if the employer refuses to provide the information the EEOC requests it will issue a subpoena demanding the employer produce the information. If the employer refuses to comply with the subpoena the EEOC may ask a court to enforce it. Continue reading

 

Cities v. Big Banks: Supreme Court to Pick the Winner

Trouble over phantom accounts isn’t the only problem Wells Fargo is currently facing. Cities have sued Wells Fargo and Bank of America for reverse redlining (lending to equally qualified minorities on less favorable terms than whites).

In its Supreme Court amicus brief in Wells Fargo v. City of Miami and Bank of America v. City of Miami the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) argues that Miami, and other cities across the country, should have “standing” to sue banks under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) for economic harm caused to cities by discriminatory lending practices. Continue reading

 

Opening Day at the Supreme Court

The first Monday in October (today) is Supreme Court opening day! Two other traditions coincide with this tradition. First is State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) Supreme Court Preview webinar. Second is the results of the Supreme Court’s “long” conference. Continue reading

 
 

SCOTUS to Decide “Catch-22” or “You Only Have Yourself to Blame” Redistricting Case

Is the North Carolina legislature in a “Catch-22” or are its problems entirely of its own making? The Supreme Court might weigh in on these questions in McCrory v. Harris.

McCrory v. Harris is a typical redistricting case in at least two respects. First, it raises so many legal issues that it is impossible to know what the Supreme Court will focus on. Second, beyond all the technical legal arguments, plaintiffs’ fundamental objection to the redistricting plan is familiar:  they claim the legislature packed minority voters into safe minority districts under the guise of complying with the Voting Right Act (VRA) to reduce minority voters’ influence in other districts. North Carolina claims it is caught in a “Catch-22.” Continue reading

 

SCOTUS Narrows Bribery Definition Applied to Government Officials

Beyond what even the Supreme Court describes as “tawdy tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns,” McDonnell v. United States deals with a practical issue many elected officials confront at some point in their political career: when and how can you help someone who has helped you?  Continue reading

 

Supreme Court Drunken Driving Case Implicates Police Practices

As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota in states that criminalize the refusal to take a blood alcohol concentration tests, officers should offer only a breath (not blood) test unless they have a warrant.

The Court held 5-3 that states may criminalize an arrestee’s refusal to take a warrantless breath test. If states criminalize the refusal to take a blood test police must obtain a warrant. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing that states should be able to criminalize warrantless refusal to consent when a person is arrested upon suspicion of drunken driving.   Continue reading

 

Narrow (and Rare) SCOTUS Win for Affirmative Action

Ironically, had Justice Scalia lived Fisher II might have been 4-4 or become Fisher III. But instead the more liberal Justices plus Justice Kennedy prevailed in this win for affirmative action.

In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin the Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions program is constitutional, as least of 2008, when this case was first brought. Justice Kagan did not participate in this case. Continue reading

 

Supreme Court Halts Immigration Deferred Action

The Supreme Court split 4-4 in United States v. Texas on whether the President’s deferred action immigration program violates federal law. As a result, the Fifth Circuit’s nationwide temporary stay of the program remains in effect. Next, a trial court may rule on whether the program should be permanently stayed.    Continue reading

 

Is Merger Doomed: SCOTUS to Decide

Whoever thought up merger probably long ago gave up worrying if it was unconstitutional, if they even ever thought about it. But now that person (and numerous cities, counties, and states) have reason to worry.

In Murr v. Wisconsin the Supreme Court will decide whether merger provisions in state law and local ordinances, where nonconforming, adjacent lots under common ownership are combined for zoning purposes, may result in the unconstitutional taking of property. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing that these very common provisions are constitutional. 

Continue reading

 

This Case is Not (Only) About Paving Poor Preschool Playgrounds

In fact at this point Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley may be more about post-purchase depression than anything else. This case involves religion; a topic the Roberts Court has mostly shied away from even when it had the benefit of nine Justices. But the Court agreed to hear it before Justice Scalia died.

There are two ways of looking at this case, both of which are hard to argue with: state aid to religious organizations means less money for secular causes, and all preschool students should have access to safe playgrounds no matter where they go to school. Continue reading

 

Break the Seal and Lose Your Case?

It is hard to keep quiet when you have a secret big enough that ABC’s 20/20 is interested in interviewing you. But if you talk too soon will the lawsuit your secret culminates in be dismissed?

The False Claims Act (FCA) allows third parties to sue on behalf of the United States for fraud committed against the United States. Per the Act a FCA complaint is kept secret “under seal” until the United States can review it and decide whether it wants to participate in the case.

In Rigsby v. State Farm the Supreme Court will decide what standard applies when deciding whether to dismiss a case because of a seal violation. Some federal circuits dismiss all cases. Continue reading

 

SCOTUS Victory for Employees in Employment Discrimination Deadline Case

Per federal employment discrimination laws timelines are short and decisive. If an employee misses a deadline his or her case is over. If such timelines aren’t forgiving the Supreme Court is in Green v. Brennan. The Court chose a deadline for constructive discharge cases, where an employee feels compelled to quit due to intolerable working conditions, more favorable to employees. Continue reading

 

SCOTUS Sends Standing Case Back to Lower Court

Spokeo v. Robins is both esoteric and important. Like a lot of Supreme Court opinions these days it seems like a compromise that will just increase confusion. In short, the scope of liability for state and local governments under a number of federal statutes remains uncertain.

The Court sent the case, involving whether Thomas Robins may sue a search engine under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) for providing inaccurate information about him, back to the lower court to determine whether Robins suffered a “concrete” harm and therefore had “standing” to sue.

While this case does not sound relevant to state and local government it is. A number of federal statutes applicable to state and local government—the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA)—allow plaintiffs to sue even if they have not necessarily been harmed. Regardless, to bring a lawsuit in federal court a plaintiff must have “standing” per Article III of the U.S. Constitution. Injury-in-fact—including a concrete harm—is one of the requirements for “standing.”  Continue reading

 

Supreme Court Decides Birth Control Mandate Case (Sort of)

The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Zubik v. Burwell reads like a settlement agreement. It is likely a compromise influenced at least partially by Justice Scalia’s death. Is the agreement the Court brokered enough to keep this issue out of the Supreme Court again or will the devil be in the details? Only time will tell and by then the Court will (probably) have nine Justices again.

 Zubik v. Burwell, involving religious nonprofit objections to providing notice objecting to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) birth control mandate, does not directly affect state and local government. But it is one piece of a litigation puzzle over this law; most of the puzzle pieces do affect state and local government. In a three-page unauthored opinion the Court did not rule on the merits of the case leaving the lower courts to “resolve any outstanding issues.” Continue reading

 
 
 

SCOTUS: Just Give Us a Reason to Approve Your Imperfect Redistricting Plan

In a (barely) 11 page opinion the Supreme Court did what three lower court judges could not do in three separate opinions: agree 

In Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission the Supreme Court confirms that state and local governments don’t have to apportion legislative districts perfectly, but they do need a good reason for failing to doing so. But we knew that before. 

The Court held unanimously that Arizona’s redistricting plan, which had a total population deviation among districts of 8.8 percent, wasn’t unconstitutional. Those attacking the plan failed to show it is more probable than not that the deviation reflects illegitimate reapportionment considerations. Continue reading

 
 

Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Important Immigration Case Today

It was a different crowd today at the Supreme Court. The number of children on the courthouse steps may have exceeded the number of adults, and the voices on the microphones were speaking English and Spanish.

United States v. Texas is about different things for different people. For some it is about keeping families together, for others executive overreach, and for about half of the states it is about “standing” to sue the federal government.   Continue reading