Capitol Comments

In an effort to establish and strengthen private-public partnerships addressing election security, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Cybersecurity Assessments and Technical Service (NCATS) team has announced a program allowing federally funded national science laboratories to examine and identify gaps that would help mitigate state election systems being vulnerable to cyber threats.

In 1986 a majority of the Supreme Court agreed that partisan gerrymandering may be unconstitutional in certain circumstances. But in that case and since then the Court has failed to agree on a standard for when partisan gerrymandering crosses the line. In Gill v. Whitford and Benisek v. Lamone the Supreme Court again declined to adopt a standard for what constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

In Gill the Court concluded that the gerrymandering challengers failed to demonstrate they had standing to bring their lawsuit. In Benisek the Court allowed Maryland’s redistricting plan to go into effect because, among other reasons, the challengers were too delayed in bringing their lawsuit.  

Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR, is currently the most direct and readily available methodology to edit DNA. Scientists are using this technology to develop drought-resistant plants, plants that do not need as much sunlight, plants that grow normally when over watered, and other variations. Since the United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, announced in April that it would no longer regulate genetically edited crops, it is likely that a CRISPR-edited crop will soon come to market.The USDA decision leaves only the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, and the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, as the overseeing agencies of current CRISPR regulations. The FDA announced a Request for Comment seeking public input on their regulation of intentionally altered genomic DNA in animals in January 2018. The EPA regulates CRISPR-based innovation that would affect microbiomes, insect health and pest extermination agents.

A closer look at the Supreme Court opinion in Minnesota Voter Alliance v. Mansky reveals that the case may not be as bad as it seems for the thirty some states which prohibit campaign-related accessories or apparel at polling place.

In a 7-2 decision the Supreme Court struck down a Minnesota law which prohibits voters from wearing a political badge, political button, or anything bearing political insignia inside a polling place on Election Day. According to the Court banning all political speech is too broad. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case supporting Minnesota.

States continue to take significant actions in attempts to lessen barriers to workforce entry caused by occupational licensing. CSG currently facilitates a consortium of 11 states looking at occupational licensing reform as a part of the Occupational Licensing Assessing State Policy and Practice project in partnership with NCSL and NGA, funded by the US Department of Labor. However, the examples below come from states not currently participating in this project’s consortium, signifying that occupational licensing reform is a priority for states nationwide, and not just the 11 states participating in this CSG project.

As states begin preparing their election systems for the upcoming midterm elections, the federal government is offering support and guidance to state and local election officials to better respond to threats similar to those encountered during the 2016 election cycle.

Cybersecurity has become a central issue for many state officials across the nation. In the past six months, Colorado, Connecticut and North Carolina have all been victims of cybercrime. In today’s world, where so many aspects of daily life depend on data sharing devices that communicate via the internet, state officials are trying to mitigate the damage that can be done by hackers. There is little uniformity among state cybersecurity strategies. However, three states have positioned themselves as...

An uptick in concern about digital privacy is sweeping the nation. Incidents such as injury law firm advertisements targeting emergency room patients based on location, smart home assistants recording conversations unbeknown to their owners, and Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal have all contributed to concerns about digital privacy.

It is fairly rare for the Supreme Court to decide a family law case raising constitutional issues. The last noteworthy case meeting this criteria was Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) where the Court ruled same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Sveen v. Melin isn’t as groundbreaking.  

In this case the Supreme Court held 8-1 that applying Minnesota’s revocation-on-divorce statute to a life insurance beneficiary designation made before the statute’s enactment does not violate the Constitution’s Contracts Clause.

Despite the fact that Washington v. United States wasn’t really decided and technically only affects one state, it is still an interesting case because Washington argues the lower court decision will cost it billions of dollars. Also, this decision comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s recent grant in Murphy v. Royal. In this case the Tenth Circuit held that for the purpose of criminal prosecutions half of Oklahoma may be located on an Indian Reservation.  

In Washington v. United States the Supreme Court was supposed to decide whether a “fishing clause” in a treaty guarantees “that the number of fish would always be sufficient to provide a ‘moderate living’ to the tribes.” Instead the Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit ruling by an equally divide vote. Whenever the Supreme Court deadlocks in a case the lower court decision stands but it doesn’t have precedential value. Justice Kennedy was recused in this case.

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