Capitol Comments

Merck v. Albrecht is a simple issue contained in a long story.

In 2009 in Wyeth v. Levine the Supreme Court held that federal law preempts state law failure to warn claims that a drug manufacturer failed to change a drug label if there is “clear evidence” the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would not have approved the label change. In Merck v. Albrecht a unanimous Supreme Court held that a judge rather than a jury determines if the FDA would have approved the change.

The federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) provides no federal remedy for unsafe and ineffective drugs but state law may in the form of a failure to warn claim. The FDA allows manufacturers to change warnings on drug labels when newer drug safety information becomes available. The Supreme Court has held if the FDA would not have approved a drug label change, which a state failure to warn law would have required, the FDCA preempts the state law claim.

What will invariably get everyone’s attention about this case is it is the second 5-4 decision where Justice Gorsuch has joined the four more liberal Justices to rule in favor of a tribe. And a ruling in the Court’s most interesting tribal case of the term is yet to come. But none of this should distract from the holding of this case.    

The Supreme Court answered yes to the question in Herrera v. Wyoming of whether an old treaty allowing Native Americans to hunt on federal land is still valid. According to an amicus brief filed by the Crow Tribe “[a]t least nineteen tribes, in at least a dozen treaties, reserved for themselves the right to hunt on Federal lands away from their respective reservations.”

In 1868 the Crow Tribe ceded most of its territory in what is now Montana and Wyoming to the United States in exchange for an agreement the Crow could “hunt on the unoccupied lands of the United State.” Clayvin Herrera invoked this treaty to defend against a charge of violating state law by off-season hunting in Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming.

In a 5-4 opinion the Supreme Court held that the treaty’s hunting rights survived Wyoming’s statehood and that lands in the Bighorn National Forest aren’t categorically “occupied” because they are in a national reserve.

In County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund the Supreme Court will decide whether groundwater is subject to National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an ...

Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt (Hyatt III) is a win for state sovereignty, albeit an obscure victory. In this case the Supreme Court overturned precedent to hold 5-4 that states are immune from private lawsuits brought in courts of other states.

Since 1993 Gilbert Hyatt and the Franchise Tax Board of California (FTB) have been involved in a dispute over Hyatt’s 1991 and 1992 tax returns. FTB claims that Hyatt owes California taxes from income he earned in California. Hyatt claims he lived in Nevada during the relevant time period. Hyatt sued FTB in Nevada claiming FTB committed a number of torts during the audit.

Predicting the outcome of a Supreme Court case based on oral argument is foolhardy. But unless the more liberal Justices (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) are able to pick up the vote of a more conservative Justice (Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh) it seems likely the 2020 census will contain a question about citizenship.

In March 2018 Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross issued a memorandum stating he would add the question. He claimed the Department of Justice (DOJ) wanted the data to enforce the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition against diluting the voting power of minority groups.

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