Supreme Court

The Supreme Court’s holding in North Carolina Department of Revenue v. Kimberley Rice Kaestner 1992 Family Trust is narrow, precise, and unanimous. The presence of in-state beneficiaries alone does not allow a state to tax undistributed trust income where the beneficiaries have no right to demand that income and may never receive it.

The Kimberley Rice Kaestner trust is governed by New York law and its trustee is a New York resident who has “absolute discretion” to distribute the trust. When the trustees, Kimberley Rice Kaestner and her children, lived in North Carolina the state taxed the income of the trust even though no funds were distributed during the time period. The trust sued North Carolina seeking the $1.3 million it paid in taxes. The trust argued that the tax violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  

Let’s hope Justice Kagan is wrong about this ominous prediction in her dissenting opinion in Knick v. Township of Scott: “today’s decision means that government regulators will often have no way to avoid violating the Constitution.”

In a 5-4 opinion the Supreme Court held that a property owner may proceed directly to federal court with a takings claim. In Knick the Court overturned Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City (1985), which held that before a takings claim may be brought in federal court, a property owner must first seek just compensation under state law in state court. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) amicus brief urged the Court to keep Williamson County.

In Gundy v. United States the Supreme Court held 5-3 that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act’s (SORNA) delegation of authority to the Attorney General to apply SORNA’s requirements to pre-Act offenders doesn’t violate the constitution’s nondelegation doctrine.

SORNA, enacted in 2006, is Congress’s third sex offender registry law. It was intended to be more comprehensive than the previous two. It covers “more sex offenders, and imposes more onerous registration requirements, than most States had before.”

SORNA states “[t]he Attorney General shall have the authority to specify the applicability of the requirements of this subchapter to sex offenders convicted before the enactment of this chapter.” In 2007 the Attorney General issued an interim rule stating that SORNA’s registration requirements apply in full to pre-Act offenders. 

McDonough v. Smith is a case about forgery, deceit, fabricated evidence…and statute of limitations.

In this case the Supreme Court held 6-3 that the statute of limitations for a fabrication of evidence claim begins running upon acquittal. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing the statute of limitations should begin running earlier.

Edward McDonough, commissioner of the county board of elections, processed forged absentee ballots, which he claimed he didn’t know were forged. Youel Smith was appointed to investigate and prosecute the matter. McDonough claims Smith “falsified affidavits, coached witnesses to lie, and orchestrated a suspect DNA analysis to link McDonough to relevant ballot envelopes.” The first trial involving McDonough ended in a mistrial. He was acquitted in a second trial.

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.

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