Lisa Soronen

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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. 

The Supreme Court hears cases on a few legal issues every term:  preemption and Fourth Amendment search and seizure cases are two of the most obvious.  Qualified immunity cases are another common staple of the Supreme Court’s diet.  In November the Court decided to hear two such cases and issued an opinion in a third case without oral argument.  The State and Local Legal Center will file an amicus brief in both of the newly granted cases. 

The Supreme Court will decide in McCullen v. Coakley whether a Massachusetts statute prohibiting speech within 35-feet of a reproductive health care facility violates the First Amendment.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case.  From the perspective of the Massachusetts legislature, no good deed goes unpunished.  

Massachusetts law, which was modeled around a Colorado statute the Court held constitutional, initially allowed protesters to come within six feet of those entering a clinic within an 18-foot buffer zone around the clinic.  Protesters would crowd six feet from a clinic door making entry into the clinic difficult and intimidating.  So in 2007 Massachusetts adopted a 35-foot fixed buffer zone around clinics.  The First Circuit held that this statute is a constitutional time, place, and manner regulation of speech because numerous communication channels remain available to protesters.

The legislative and executive branches have been in a longstanding gridlock, making it difficult to assess their standing on federalism. 

But the U.S. Supreme Court has made its standing clear. The last two Supreme Court terms have produced four blockbuster decisions. All four of these cases have one thing in common—federalism.<--break->

The Supreme Court wants to resolve an issue but it cannot.  Why?  Because the cases it has accepted involving the issue keep on settling right before oral argument. 

For the second time in two years, the parties have settled a dispute before the Supreme Court over whether the Fair Housing Act (FHA) allows plaintiffs to bring disparate impact claims.  Local governments across the country have been subject to these claims. 
 
The FHA makes it unlawful to refuse to sell or rent a property to any person because of...

Last term the Supreme Court heard two Clean Water Act case.  This term the Court has accepted two significant Clean Air Act (CAA) cases—one involving regulating upwind states who pollute downwind states and the other involving regulating greenhouse gases from stationary sources.  Both cases involve states siding with or against the EPA and each other.  The Supreme Court agreed to hear the latter case, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, earlier this month. 

Court watchers look forward to the Supreme Court’s “long” conference every year.  After a three-month recess from July 1 until the first Monday in October the Court grants no petitions for review.   During its “long” conference this year the Court considered whether to hear about 2,000 cases.  On October first it accepted eight of those cases, one where the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) will file an amicus brief.

In Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States the Court will decide who owns an abandoned railroad right-of-way:  the United States or a private land owner living next to the right-of-way.

As CSG implements its Focus on Federalism Initiative, the Supreme Court is a good place to keep an eye on.  The Court relied heavily on federalism when striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act last term.  Sprint Communications Company v. Jacobs won’t be a blockbuster decision like those two cases, but the Justices will take into account federalism when ruling in this case.  CSG signed onto a State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) Supreme Court amicus brief in this case.

Younger abstention requires federal courts to refrain from interfering with ongoing state court proceedings in some circumstances.  The question before the Supreme Court in Sprint is when exactly does Younger abstention apply? Should federal courts abstain from deciding a case when there is a related state proceeding that is “remedial” not “coercive”?

The Supreme Court’s October Term 2013 already promises to be a big one for states even though the Court has thirty or so more cases to accept.  Here is a highlight of a few of the cases the Court has agreed to hear so far affecting state government.

In Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action the Court will decide whether a state constitutional amendment banning affirmative action by public...

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