Lisa Soronen

Author Articles

In Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute the Supreme Court will decide whether federal law allows states and local governments to remove people from the voter rolls if the state or local government sends them a confirmation notice after they haven’t voted for two years, they don’t respond to the notice, and then they don’t vote in the next four years.

While Ohio is being sued in this case twelve other states use a similar process. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case supporting Ohio.

In July the Department of Justice (DOJ) added two new requirements for states and local governments to receive federal Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (Byrne JAG) for law enforcement funding. Chicago, San Francisco, and California have filed lawsuits against Attorney General Jeff Sessions arguing that these new requirements are unlawful. Chicago argues that another requirement added earlier is unlawful as well.    

Congress created Byrne JAG in 2005 to provide “flexible” funding for state and local police departments. In April 2017 DOJ required Chicago (and eight other jurisdictions) to provide documentation that it complies with 8 U.S.C. 1373, which prohibits states and local governments from restricting employees from sharing immigration status information with federal immigration officials.

In July 2017 DOJ added a “notice” and an “access” requirement to receive Byrne JAG funds. Recipients must now (1) provide 48 hours advance notice to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding the scheduled release of “aliens” and (2) allow access to correctional or detention facilities to meet with “aliens” and inquire about their right to be in the United States.

After postponing a decision about whether to hear the notorious “cake case” 14 times, the Supreme Court has granted the petition in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The issue in this case is whether Colorado's public accommodations law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, violates a cake artist’s First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights.

The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack C. Phillips, declined to design and make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs.

After postponing a decision about whether to hear the notorious “cake case” 14 times, the Supreme Court has granted the petition in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The issue in this case is whether Colorado's public accommodations law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, violates a cake artist’s First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights.

The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack C. Phillips, declined to design and make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs.

In Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association the Supreme Court will decide whether the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) prohibition against state-sanctioned sports gambling is unconstitutional commandeering.

New Jersey first amended its constitution to allow some sports gambling and then passed a law repealing restrictions on sports gambling. In both instances New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was sued for violating PASPA. In both cases Christie responded that PASPA unconstitutionally commandeers states in violation of the Tenth Amendment.

In Pavan v. Smith, a per curiam (unauthored) decision heard without briefing or oral argument, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an Arkansas Supreme Court judgment that an Arkansas statute, which allows only the biological mother of a child born to a same-sex married couple to be listed on the birth certificate, is constitutional.

Terrah and Marisa Pavan married in New Hampshire in 2011, and Terrah gave birth to a child in Arkansas in 2015. The Arkansas Department of Health issued a certificate bearing only Terrah’s name based on a provision of the Arkansas code specifying that “[i]f the mother was married at the time of either conception or birth . . . the name of [her] husband shall be entered on the certificate as the father of the child.” This provision applies even if a child is conceived through artificial insemination, as the Pavan’s daughter was, and it is impossible that the mother’s husband is the child’s biological father.

It is rare for the Supreme Court to rule that a lower court improperly granted a police officer qualified immunity. It is perhaps even rarer for the Supreme Court to clarify its tried and true qualified immunity standard.

In Hernandez v. Mesa the Supreme Court ruled that the lower court erred in granting qualified immunity to a police officer based on facts unknown at the time of the shooting, but favorable to the officer. More generally, it clarified that the facts learned after an incident are not relevant to granting or denying qualified immunity.  

In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer the Supreme Court held 7-2 that Missouri violated Trinity Lutheran Church’s free exercise of religion rights when it refused, on the basis of religion, to award the Church a grant to resurface its playground with recycled tires.

Trinity’s preschool ranked fifth among 44 applicants to receive a grant from Missouri’s Scrap Tire Program. Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) informed the preschool it didn’t receive a grant because Missouri’s constitution prohibits public funds from being used “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.” Trinity sued the DNR claiming it violated the Church’s First Amendment free exercise of religion rights.

It has been a number of years since states and local governments have won a property rights case. But in Murr v. Wisconsin the Supreme Court concluded 5-3 that no taking occurred where state law and local ordinance “merged” nonconforming, adjacent lots under common ownership, meaning the property owners could not sell one of the lots by itself. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), filed an amicus brief, which the Court cited two times, arguing that these very common provisions are constitutional. 

On its last opinion day of the term, the Supreme Court announced that it would rule on the constitutionality of the Trump administration’s revised travel ban. In the meantime to the extent the executive order prevents foreign nationals and refugees “who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” from entering the United States, it may go into effect until the Supreme Court rules on the merits of this case.   

The president’s first executive order prevented people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days, froze decisions on refugee applications for 120 days, and capped total refugee admissions at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017.

The Ninth Circuit temporarily struck it down, concluding this executive order was not religion-neutral, and that it likely violated the due process rights of lawful permanent residents, nonimmigrant visa holders, and refugees.

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