Lisa Soronen

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In Mitchell v. Wisconsin the Supreme Court held that generally when police officers have probable cause to believe an unconscious person has committed a drunk driving offense, warrantless blood draws are permissible. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing for this result.

By the time the police officer got Gerald Mitchell from his car to the hospital to take a blood test he was unconscious. Mitchell’s blood alcohol content (BAC) about 90 minutes after his arrest was 0.222%.

Wisconsin and twenty-eight other states allow warrantless blood draws of unconscious persons where police officers have probable cause to suspect drunk driving.

In Rucho v. Common Cause the Supreme Court held 5-4 that partisan gerrymandering claims are non-justiciable—meaning that a federal court cannot decide them.

Partisan gerrymandering is the practice of drawing legislative districts to benefit one political party. In Davis v. Bandemer (1986) a majority of the Supreme Court held that partisan gerrymandering cases are justiciable. In that case and since then the Court has been unable to lay out a standard for when partisan dominance “is too much.” In Rucho v. Common Cause the Supreme Court announced it will stop trying.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion which his conservative colleagues joined (Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh). Unsurprisingly, the Court emphasized the role of state legislatures in districting:  “The Framers were aware of electoral districting problems and considered what to do about them. They settled on a characteristic approach, assigning the issue to the state legislatures, expressly checked and balanced by the Federal Congress.”

Chief Justice Roberts joined his more liberal colleagues (Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) concluding the reasons Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross gave for adding the citizenship question to the 2020 census were pretextual in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).

Presumably, Secretary Ross will now be able to offer different reasons for why he wanted to add the citizenship question. If he chooses to do so those reasons may also be challenged in court as pretextual or discriminatory. If he chooses to offer no different reasons, presumably, the 2020 census for won’t contain a citizenship question.    

In Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Thomas the Supreme Court held 7-2 that Tennessee’s law requiring alcohol retailers to live in the state for two years to receive a license is unconstitutional. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case arguing the law was constitutional.  

Two constitutional provisions are at issue in this case. The dormant Commerce Clause prohibits state laws that unduly restrict interstate commerce. Both parties agree that if Tennessee’s durational-residency requirement applied to anyone wishing to sell anything other than alcohol it would violate the dormant Commerce Clause.

Auer deference, courts deferring to agencies’ reasonable interpretations of their ambiguous regulations, is alive following the Supreme Court’s decision in Kisor v. Wilkie. But, in the opinion of a few Justices, it is only on life support.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case asking the Supreme Court to overturn Auer v. Robbins (1997). In 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.

As discussed in the SLLC amicus brief, states and local governments object to Auer deference because it gives agencies a lot of power. They both write regulations and may interpret them as they like without significant court scrutiny. Agencies aren’t required to receive notice-and-comment related to their interpretations of regulations. New administrations may change the interpretations at their whim. And agencies may purposely write ambiguous regulations knowing courts will defer to their interpretations of them. If Auer deference wasn’t available, courts would interpret regulations without deferring to agency interpretations of them.     

In Moda Health Plan v. United States the Supreme Court will decide whether Congress may enact appropriations riders restricting the sources of funding available to pay health insurers for losses incurred that were supposed to be paid per federal law.

The Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) risk corridor program provided that if a health insurance plan participating in the exchange lost money between 2014-2016 it would receive a payment from the federal government based on a formula defined in the statute. If it made money the plan had to pay the federal government based on a formula. The purpose of the program was to induce health insurance companies to offer plans on the exchange despite the fact they didn’t have reliable data to price the plans.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified a particular funding source the federal government could use to make payments. Congress passed appropriations riders for all three years disallowing that funding source to be used to make risk corridor payments.

Rarely does a Supreme Court case implicate the work of state legislatures like Georgia v. Public.Resource.org. In this case the Court will decide whether a state may copyright statutory annotations.

Georgia, through a Code Revision Commission, made up of the Lieutenant Governor, the Speaker of the House, members of the Senate and House, and others, contracts with Lexis to draft the statutory annotations published in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA).

Annotations include “history lines, repeal lines, cross references, commentaries, case notations, editor’s notes, excerpts from law review articles, summaries of opinions of the Attorney General of Georgia, summaries of advisory opinions of the State Bar, and other research references.”

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. 

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