Federalism

Chapter 2 of The Book of the States 2019 contains the following tables:

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue raises an issue the Supreme Court has long wrestled with:  if a state-aid program violates a state constitutional prohibition against mixing church and state because religious institutions may participate, does discontinuing that program violate the federal constitution’s Free Exercise or Equal Protection Clauses.

Montana statutes allow taxpayers to receive tax credits for contribution to Student Scholarship Organizations (SSO) that give students scholarships to attend private schools, including religious schools. The Montana Department of Revenue adopted Rule 1 disallowing religious schools to participate in the program because it concluded their participation would violate Montana’s constitution. Parents of students attending religiously-affiliated private schools challenged Rule 1.

Auer deference, courts deferring to agencies’ reasonable interpretations of their ambiguous regulations, is alive following the Supreme Court’s decision in Kisor v. Wilkie. But, in the opinion of a few Justices, it is only on life support.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case asking the Supreme Court to overturn Auer v. Robbins (1997). In that case the Supreme Court reaffirmed its holding in Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. (1945), that courts must defer to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations.

As discussed in the SLLC amicus brief, states and local governments object to Auer deference because it gives agencies a lot of power. They both write regulations and may interpret them as they like without significant court scrutiny. Agencies aren’t required to receive notice-and-comment related to their interpretations of regulations. New administrations may change the interpretations at their whim. And agencies may purposely write ambiguous regulations knowing courts will defer to their interpretations of them. If Auer deference wasn’t available, courts would interpret regulations without deferring to agency interpretations of them.     

The Bladensburg Peace Cross may stay the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision in American Legion v. American Humanist Association.  According to Justice Alito, writing for the majority of the Court: “It has become a prominent community landmark, and its removal or radical alteration at this date would be seen by many not as a neutral act but as the manifestation of ‘a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions.’” The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case supporting the local government.

In late 1918, residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland, decided to erect a memorial to honor soldiers from the county who died in World War I. The monument, completed in 1925, is a 32-foot tall Latin cross that sits on a large pedestal. Among other things, it contains a plaque listing the names of 49 local men who died in the war. Over the years, memorials honoring the veterans of other conflicts have been added to the surrounding area. In 1961, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission acquired the Cross and the land it is on in order to preserve it and address traffic-safety concerns.

One can’t help but wonder if the Supreme Court decided to hear Allen v. Cooper because it involves a pirate ship. The (not very glamorous) legal issue the Supreme Court will decide is whether states can be sued in federal court for copyright violations.

North Carolina owns a ship pirate Blackbeard captured, renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge, and sunk between 1717-18. In the late 1990s North Carolina permitted a private research and salvage firm to photograph the ship. North Carolina continued to own the shipwreck and its artifacts, and the company could make money from the sale of media related to the ship. Frederick Allen, who was hired by the salvage firm to take photos and videos of the ship, sued North Carolina for infringing on images Allen copyrighted.

The Eleventh Amendment protects states and state officials acting in their official capacity from being sued in federal court. Congress may abrogate sovereign immunity by making a clear statement of its intent and validly exercising congressional power. Allen claims North Carolina can be sued in federal court for infringing on his copyright because Congress abrogated states’ sovereign immunity in the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act. 

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.

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.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) states that any information contained in the Form I-9, which is used to verify a person’s eligibility to work in the United States, may only be used for limited federal enforcement. The question the Supreme Court will decide in Kansas v. Garcia is whether the IRCA preempts states from using information contained in the I-9 to prosecute a person under state law (in this case for identity theft).

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in Kisor v. Wilkie asking the Supreme Court to overturn Auer v. Robbins (1997). It that case the Supreme Court reaffirmed its holding in Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. (1945) that courts must defer to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations.

In Kisor v. Wilkie the Federal Circuit deferred to the Veterans Administration’s (VA) definition of “relevant” when determining whether a veteran’s claim for benefits can be reconsidered.

CSG Midwest
In November, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could dramatically limit states’ and localities’ ability to levy criminal fines and asset forfeitures. The central question in ...

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