Lisa Soronen

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It is fairly rare for the Supreme Court to decide a family law case raising constitutional issues. The last noteworthy case meeting this criteria was Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) where the Court ruled same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Sveen v. Melin isn’t as groundbreaking.  

In this case the Supreme Court held 8-1 that applying Minnesota’s revocation-on-divorce statute to a life insurance beneficiary designation made before the statute’s enactment does not violate the Constitution’s Contracts Clause.

Despite the fact that Washington v. United States wasn’t really decided and technically only affects one state, it is still an interesting case because Washington argues the lower court decision will cost it billions of dollars. Also, this decision comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s recent grant in Murphy v. Royal. In this case the Tenth Circuit held that for the purpose of criminal prosecutions half of Oklahoma may be located on an Indian Reservation.  

In Washington v. United States the Supreme Court was supposed to decide whether a “fishing clause” in a treaty guarantees “that the number of fish would always be sufficient to provide a ‘moderate living’ to the tribes.” Instead the Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit ruling by an equally divide vote. Whenever the Supreme Court deadlocks in a case the lower court decision stands but it doesn’t have precedential value. Justice Kennedy was recused in this case.

In Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute the Supreme Court held that Ohio’s processes of removing people from the voter rolls does not violate federal law. If a person doesn’t vote for two years Ohio sends them a confirmation notice. If they don’t respond to the notice and don’t vote in the next four years, Ohio removes them from the voter rolls.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case supporting Ohio. Twelve other states maintain their voter rolls using a similar process.

States and local governments who have sued the Trump administration over the sanctuary jurisdictions executive order, the adding of conditions to receive Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (Byrne JAG), and providing documentation to prove they comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 have won all their major claims except one as of June 5.

On June 6 in City of Philadelphia v. Sessions a federal district court became the first to rule that Section 1373 is unconstitutional. This statute prohibits states and local governments from restricting employees from sharing immigration status information with federal immigration officials.

In a 7-2 decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission the Supreme Court reversed a ruling against the owner of a cake shop who refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs. The Court concluded the cake maker was entitled to but did not experience a “neutral decisionmaker who [gave] full and fair consideration to his religious objection.” The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case supporting Colorado.

Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins filed a complaint against Masterpiece Cakeshop claiming it violated Colorado's public accommodations law, which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, when it refused to create a wedding cake for them. The cake shop owner Jack Phillips explained:  “to create a wedding cake for an event that celebrates something that directly goes against the teachings of the Bible, would have been a personal endorsement and participation in the ceremony and relationship that they were entering into.”

Collins v. Virginia is like a tricky logic problem. Police need a warrant to search the curtilage of a home but not to search a vehicle. So is a warrant needed to search a vehicle located on the curtilage of a home? Yes holds the Supreme Court.

More technically, in an 8-1 decision the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment automobile exception does not permit police officers to search vehicles parked in the curtilage of a home without a warrant.  

Virginia has the largest known uranium deposit in the United States. Since its discovery in the 1980s the Virginia legislature has banned uranium mining. Unsurprisingly the land owner, Virginia Uranium, wants to mine. In Virginia Uranium v. Warren the Supreme Court will decide whether the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) preempts the ban.

The AEA allows states to “regulate activities for purposes other than protection against radiation hazards.” Virginia and Virginia Uranium agree uranium mining isn’t an “activity” per the AEA so states may regulate it for safety reasons. Uranium-ore milling and tailings storage are “activities” under the AEA so states can’t regulate them for safety reasons. Milling is the process of refining ore and tailings storage refers to the remaining (radioactive) material which must be stored.

Would it surprise you to learn that more than 750,000 people in Oklahoma, including most Tulsa residents, live on an Indian reservation? That isn’t exactly what the Tenth Circuit held in Murphy v. Royal. But it illustrates what is at stake in this case, which the Supreme Court will decide next term.  

Patrick Murphy killed George Jacobs. Oklahoma prosecuted Murphy. Per the Major Crimes Act states lacks jurisdiction to prosecute Native Americans who commit murder in “Indian country.” Murphy is Native American. Murphy and Oklahoma disagree over whether the murder took place on a Creek Nation reservation.

In Byrd v. United States the Supreme Court held unanimously that the driver of a rental car generally has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the rental car even if he or she isn’t listed as an authorized driver on the rental agreement.   

A state trooper pulled Terrance Byrd over for a possible traffic infraction. Byrd’s name was not on the rental agreement. He told the officer a friend had rented it. Officers searched the car and found 49 bricks of cocaine and body armor.

While the Fourth Amendment prohibits warrantless searches, generally probable cause a crime has been committed is enough to search a car. To claim a violation of Fourth Amendment rights a defendant must have a “legitimate expectation of privacy in the premises” searched.  

The legal issue in Guido v. Mount Lemmon Fire District could not be simpler; but the law is tricky. In this case the Supreme Court will decide whether 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) amicus brief argues it should not.

John Guido was 46 and Dennis Rankin was 54 when they were terminated by the Mount Lemmon Fire District due to budget cuts. 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 argues that the ADEA does not apply to it because it employs fewer than 20 people.

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