Lisa Soronen

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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.

In a 6-3 decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association the Supreme Court declared the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) unconstitutional. PASPA, adopted in 1992, prohibits states from authorizing sports gambling. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief asking the Court to rule PASPA violates the Constitution’s anticommandeering doctrine.  

As a result of this decision state legislatures may repeal state laws banning sports betting and/or pass laws allowing sports betting.

Russell Bucklew was sentence to death for murder, kidnapping, and rape. He suffers from cavernous hemangioma, which causes clumps of weak, malformed blood vessels and tumors to grow in his face, head, neck, and throat.

Missouri intended to execute him by lethal injection. But he claims that killing him by gas, still on the books in Missouri but not used since 1965, would substantially reduce his risk of pain and suffering given his cavernous hemangioma. The Eighth Circuit rejected his request.

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide four issues in Bucklew v. Precythe. Until merits briefs are filed and oral argument is held in the fall it difficult to know what the Supreme Court will focus on. For now, the Eighth Circuit opinion provides the best clues.

Knick v. Township of Scott involves a common theme before the Supreme Court. One party is asking it to overturn long-standing Supreme Court precedent. Unfortunately for states and local governments the precedent on the chopping block arises in the property rights context (where the more conservative Supreme Court tends to favor property owners) and is generally considered favorable to states and local governments.  

The Township of Scott adopted an ordinance requiring cemeteries, whether public or private, to be free and open and accessible to the public during the day. Code enforcement could enter any property to determine the “existence and location” of a cemetery.

The Constitution’s Takings Clause states that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Rose Mary Knick sued the county in federal (rather than state) court claiming the ordinance was invalid per the Takings Clause after code enforcement went onto her property without a warrant looking for a cemetery.

Per the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) may designate land a “critical habitat” for an endangered species. The ESA mandates that FWS consider the economic impact of specifying an area as a critical habitat. FWS may exclude an area if the benefits of excluding it outweigh the benefits of including it.

In its amicus brief in Weyerhaeuser Company v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) argues courts may review FWS decisions not to exclude an area from a critical habitat because of the economic impact of the designation.

In Abbott v. Perez a number of persons and advocacy groups challenged the Texas Legislature’s 2011 state legislative and congressional redistricting plan claiming it discriminated against black and Hispanic voters in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.

In 2011 a three-judge district court issued a remedial redistricting plan which the U.S. Supreme Court vacated in 2012. The district court then drew another remedial redistricting plan which the state legislature adopted in 2013.               

In this case the challengers claim that the plan as adopted by the state legislature still has the “taint of discriminatory intent” of the 2011 legislative plan. The district court agreed despite the fact that it is the author of 2013 plan. The Supreme Court heard oral argument in this case.

In July 2017 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 sued Attorney General Jeff Sessions arguing he lacks the statutory authority to impose these conditions.

In September 2017 an Illinois federal district court granted Chicago’s request for a nationwide preliminary injunction temporarily disallowing DOJ from imposing the two new requirements. Last week, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.     

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