Supreme Court

What do the Supreme Court cases where corporations challenge the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate on religious grounds have to do with state government?  Nothing, at least on the surface.  But if you dig a little deeper the outcome of this case could affect state and local land use decisions.  That is why the State and Local Legal Center filed an amicus brief in this case. 

In Wood v. Moss the Court will decide whether Secret Service agents engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination when they moved anti-Bush protesters about one block further from the President than pro-Bush demonstrators.  The Court also will decide whether the lower court evaluated the viewpoint discrimination claim at too high a level of generality when determining whether the agents should have been granted qualified immunity.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case.  

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in Plumhoff v. Rickard, where the Supreme Court will decide whether police officers are entitled to qualified immunity for the use of deadly force in a high speed chase. 

State and local government officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights. Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.”  Qualified immunity is intended to protect “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”

In Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States the Court will decide who owns an abandoned federally granted railroad right-of-way:  the United States or the land owner whose property the right-of-way runs through.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case supporting the United States.  State and local governments typically convert abandoned railroad rights-of-way into “Rails-to-Trails.”     

Federal court abstention may not rank among the highest priorities with those who care about federalism, including of course, CSG, who is in the midst of a Focus on Federalism Initiative.  However, it was Justice Black (and not me) who described the underpinning of Younger abstention as “Our Federalism” in his 1971 majority opinion in Younger v. Harris

“Our Federalism” “is a system in which there is sensitivity to the legitimate interests of both State and National Governments, and in which the National Government, anxious though it may be to vindicate and protect federal rights and federal interests, always endeavors to do so in ways that will not unduly interfere with the legitimate activities of the States.”

However, “Our Federalism” wasn’t enough in the Court’s most recent Younger abstention ruling.  Sprint Communications Company v. Jacobs was short, unanimous, and issued early in the Court’s Term.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case, which CSG joined. 

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