Supreme Court

States and local governments have long been skeptical of the requirement that courts defer to agency interpretations of statutes because such deference gives unelected agencies a lot of power. In PDR Network, LLC v. Carlton & Harris Chiropractic Inc. the lower court required something worse: blind adherence to an agency order.

The Hobbs Act vests the federal courts of appeals with “exclusive jurisdiction” to “enjoin, set aside, suspend (in whole or in part), or to determine the validity of” certain orders made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and orders of the Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Transportation, Federal Maritime Commission, Atomic Energy Commission, and others.

According to one lower court the Hobbs Act “promotes judicial efficiency, vests an appellate panel rather than a single district judge with the power of agency review, and allows uniform, nationwide interpretation of the federal statute by the centralized expert agency.”

In March 2018 Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross issued a memorandum stating a citizenship question would be added to the 2020 census questionnaire. In In Re Department of Commerce the Supreme Court will not be deciding whether this question may be legally added. Instead, the Court will decide—among other things—whether Secretary Ross may be deposed as to his motives for adding this question.

A number of state and local governments and nonprofits sued the Secretary claiming that adding this question is arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

In the 2018 memorandum Secretary Ross stated that he “began a thorough assessment” of whether to add a citizenship question “[f]ollowing receipt” of a December 2017 letter from the Department of Justice (DOJ) requesting citizenship data to enforce the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition against diluting the voting power of minority groups.

In the latest twist in Virginia’s redistricting saga, Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, the Supreme Court must resolve a showdown between the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Attorney General regarding who may litigate the case, among many other issues.

Plaintiffs, a number of Virginia voters, allege that the Virginia legislature engaged in unconstitutional racial gerrymandering when it constructed 12 majority-black Virginia House of Delegates districts during the 2011 redistricting cycle. More specifically, the plaintiffs argue that requiring each of these districts to contain a minimum 55% black voting age population (BVAP) was unnecessary for black voters to elect their preferred candidates per the Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs claim this minimum was set to reduce the influence of black voters in other districts.

In its first opinion of the term in Mt. Lemmon Fire District v. Guido the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) applies to state and local government employers with less than 20 employees. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing that it should not apply. State and local governments often rely on small special districts to provide services they don’t provide.  

John Guido was 46 and Dennis Rankin was 54 when they were laid off by the Mount Lemmon Fire District. They claim they were terminated because of their age in violation of the ADEA. They were the oldest of the district’s 11 employees. 

The fire district argued that the ADEA does not apply to it because it employs fewer than 20 people. The Ninth Circuit disagreed.

In Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association the Supreme Court will decide whether a local government has violated the First Amendment by displaying and maintaining a 93-year-old, 40-foot tall Latin cross memorializing soldiers who died in World War I.  

Prince George’s County citizens and an American Legion Post raised money to build the monument. In 1925 it was dedicated at a Christian prayer service. Over the years Christian religious services have been held at the cross.

In 1961 the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission took title of the land and the cross because it is located in the middle of a busy traffic median. The cross is part of a park honoring veterans. Other monuments are located anywhere from 200 feet to a half-a-mile from the cross. None are taller than 10 feet.

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