Lisa Soronen

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This case would have been a lot more interesting had it gone the other way. In an unanimous decision the Supreme Court held in Dawson v. Steager that West Virginia violated a federal statute by taxing all the retirement benefits of former federal law enforcement employees but not certain state law enforcement employees.

4 U.S.C. § 111 allows states to tax the pay of federal employees only “if the taxation does not discriminate . . . because of the source of the pay or compensation.” James Dawson, a former U.S. Marshal, sued West Virginia alleging it violated this statute because it taxed his pension but not the pensions of certain state law enforcement employees. The West Virginia Supreme Court found no discrimination because relatively few state employees received the tax break and the statute’s intent was to benefit those state retirees not harm federal retirees.

In a unanimous decision in Timbs v. Indiana the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is “incorporated” or applicable to the states and local governments.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) amicus brief argued for the opposite result. In the alternative, the brief argued that the forfeiture in this case isn’t unconstitutionally excessive. The Supreme Court didn’t reach the latter question. This case will make it possible for criminal defendants in all 50 states to challenge forfeitures as excessive under the federal constitution.

In an unauthored opinion in Moore v. Texas II the Supreme Court concluded Bobby James Moore has intellectual disability. In Atkins v. Virginia (2002) the Supreme Court held that persons with intellectual disability can’t be executed.

As the dissenting Justices point out, the Supreme Court typically opines whether a lower court has correctly applied as a standard and sends the case back to the lower court if it didn’t. The Supreme Court usually doesn’t apply the standard itself. It may have done so in this case because it previously held the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals failed to correctly apply the intellectual disability standard to Moore in Texas v. Moore (2017) (Moore I).

If a state or local government discharges a pollutant from a point source to a navigable water it must obtain a permit under the Clean Water Act (CWA). But what if that pollutant is conveyed in something—say groundwater—between the point source and the navigable water? Must the state or local government still obtain a permit? That is the question the Supreme Court will decide next term in County of Maui, Hawaii v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund.

In April the Supreme Court will hear argument in a case that will determine whether a citizenship question will appear in the 2020 census. A decision in Department of Commerce v. New York is expected by the end of June, in time presumably to include or exclude the question from the print version of the census.

In January a federal district court held...

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in Kisor v. Wilkie asking the Supreme Court to overturn Auer v. Robbins (1997). It that case the Supreme Court reaffirmed its holding in Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. (1945) that courts must defer to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations.

In Kisor v. Wilkie the Federal Circuit deferred to the Veterans Administration’s (VA) definition of “relevant” when determining whether a veteran’s claim for benefits can be reconsidered.

The issue the Supreme Court will decide in McDonough v. Smith is whether the statute of limitations for a due process fabrication of evidence claim begins to run when the criminal proceedings terminate in the defendant’s favor, or when the defendant becomes aware of the tainted evidence and its improper use.

Edward McDonough, former Democratic Commissioner of Rensselaer County Board of Elections, approved forged absentee ballot applications which he claims he didn’t know had been falsified. Youel Smith investigated and prosecuted McDonough. McDonough claims Smith “engaged in an elaborate scheme to frame McDonough for the crimes by, among other things, fabricating evidence.” After two trials, McDonough was ultimately acquitted.

Just before three years passed since McDonough was acquitted he sued Smith under Section 1983 for violating his due process rights by fabricating evidence and using it against him. Section 1983 allows citizens to sue state and local government officials in federal court for constitutional violations.

In The Law of Trusts and Trustees, George Gleason Bogert describes trusts as a “legal abstraction: a fiction created to represent the tripartite relationship among a settlor, a trustee, and a beneficiary.” The debatable location of a trust makes it difficult for courts to agree which jurisdictions may tax a trust’s income. For example, what if only a trust beneficiary is located in the state, may the state tax the trust’s income? 

In North Carolina Department of Revenue v. The Kimberley Rice Kaestner 1992 Family Trust the Supreme Court will decide whether the Due Process Clause prohibits states from taxing trusts based on trust beneficiaries’ in-state residency.

Most, if not all, states have adopted “implied consent” laws where drivers may be tested if police have probable cause to suspect they have been driving while intoxicated. Drivers may withdraw consent and refuse to take a test, subject to penalties. In Birchfield v. North Dakota (2016) the Supreme Court held that generally police must obtain a warrant to require a blood test (versus a breath test) where officers have probable cause.

But what if a driver is unconscious and unable to withdraw consent to a blood test (and unable to take a breath test)? Wisconsin and 28 other states allow warrantless blood draws of unconscious drivers where police have probable cause to suspect drunk driving.

The question the Supreme Court will decide in Mitchell v. Wisconsin is whether a statute authorizing a blood draw from an unconscious motorist provides an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.

Before an employee alleging employment discrimination under Title VII (on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin) may bring a lawsuit in federal court he or she must exhaust administrative remedies by bringing formal charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (or equivalent state agency).

The question the Supreme Court will decide in Fort Bend County v. Davis is if an employee fails to exhaust administrative remedies with the EEOC before filing a lawsuit is the lawsuit barred.

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