Judicial Branch

Last year, it was health care and immigration reform. This year, the big state issues before the U.S. Supreme Court generally fall into two broad categories—environmental and searches cases. The court also will hear a couple of cases of interest to states that don’t fall into those broad categories, Lisa Soronen, executive director of the State and Local Legal Center, said during a preview of state-related cases expected in the 2013 Supreme Court term during a webinar last week.

To say the Supreme Court’s October 2011 term was “all about the states” is hardly an overstatement.  The two most prominent cases of the term—the Affordable Care Act case and the Arizona immigration case—were both about states’ rights.  (And if the Court takes a gay marriage case next term it will be states’ rights round two). 

State courts in 2011 continued to face acute problems associated with contention over judicial selection, unrealistic budget allocations and attacks on the legitimacy of the state court’s role as arbiter of the constitutionality of state laws. Sound leadership is a key ingredient to overcoming these and other pressing challenges. Steps taken to strengthen and reinvigorate judicial leadership were among the more newsworthy developments of 2011. Those steps included efforts to enlist new understandings of what compels people to obey the law in order to better guide court management and court reform.

The fields of medicine, education, child welfare, mental health, probation and corrections have all been influenced by evidence-based practices. In essence, evidence-based practices are a set of guidelines—based upon rigorous research, evaluations and meta-analysis—that have proved effective in improving decision making and outcomes. In the medical world, for example, evidence-based practice refers to the “conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients.”1 Only recently, however, has this approach spilled over into state courts in the form of providing decision-making tools for judges at the time of criminal sentencing.

In its October Term 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide four significant and prominent federalism cases involving states. These cases include the Affordable Care Act cases, the Arizona immigration case, the Texas redistricting case and the California Medicaid case. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed amicus curiae briefs in four cases to be decided this term affecting state and local government, including the California Medicaid case.

Chapter 5 of the 2012 Book of the States contains the following articles and tables:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s October 2011 term has been an exciting one for state government. Prominent cases from this term affecting states include those involving the Affordable Care Act, Arizona’s immigration law, redistricting in Texas and a California Medicaid dispute.

The last week of June likely will be big even for Americans who generally don’t give a second thought to the U.S.  Supreme Court because the Affordable Care Act cases and the Arizona immigration case will be decided then. 

But for at least state government and the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) this week has been exciting!  The Supreme Court issued opinions in two cases where the SLLC filed an amicus brief:  Armour v. Indianapolis and Reichle v. Howards.  Remarkably, the SLLC’s brief was cited in Armour v. Indianapolis.     

As state leaders begin to realize and utilize the incredible potential of technology to promote transparency, encourage citizen participation and bring real-time information to their constituents, one area may have been overlooked. Every state provides public access to their statutory material online, but only seven states provide access to official versions of their statutes online. This distinction may seem academic or even trivial, but it opens the door to a number of questions that go far beyond simply whether or not a resource has an official label.

A recent story on multiple news outlets report a Texas man claimed a $300,000 McMansion for a mere $16 through an obscure property law concept called adverse possession.  The Texas resident, Kenneth Robinson, simply paid a $16 filing fee at the local courthouse and immediately moved into the foreclosed property.  Under Texas law, if he manages to stay in the property for three years, he will be granted title to the house and be its rightful owner.