Lisa Soronen

Author Articles

In Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association the Supreme Court will decide whether the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) prohibition against state-sanctioned sports gambling is unconstitutional commandeering.

New Jersey first amended its constitution to allow some sports gambling and then passed a law repealing restrictions on sports gambling. In both instances New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was sued for violating PASPA. In both cases Christie responded that PASPA unconstitutionally commandeers states in violation of the Tenth Amendment.

In Pavan v. Smith, a per curiam (unauthored) decision heard without briefing or oral argument, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an Arkansas Supreme Court judgment that an Arkansas statute, which allows only the biological mother of a child born to a same-sex married couple to be listed on the birth certificate, is constitutional.

Terrah and Marisa Pavan married in New Hampshire in 2011, and Terrah gave birth to a child in Arkansas in 2015. The Arkansas Department of Health issued a certificate bearing only Terrah’s name based on a provision of the Arkansas code specifying that “[i]f the mother was married at the time of either conception or birth . . . the name of [her] husband shall be entered on the certificate as the father of the child.” This provision applies even if a child is conceived through artificial insemination, as the Pavan’s daughter was, and it is impossible that the mother’s husband is the child’s biological father.

It is rare for the Supreme Court to rule that a lower court improperly granted a police officer qualified immunity. It is perhaps even rarer for the Supreme Court to clarify its tried and true qualified immunity standard.

In Hernandez v. Mesa the Supreme Court ruled that the lower court erred in granting qualified immunity to a police officer based on facts unknown at the time of the shooting, but favorable to the officer. More generally, it clarified that the facts learned after an incident are not relevant to granting or denying qualified immunity.  

In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer the Supreme Court held 7-2 that Missouri violated Trinity Lutheran Church’s free exercise of religion rights when it refused, on the basis of religion, to award the Church a grant to resurface its playground with recycled tires.

Trinity’s preschool ranked fifth among 44 applicants to receive a grant from Missouri’s Scrap Tire Program. Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) informed the preschool it didn’t receive a grant because Missouri’s constitution prohibits public funds from being used “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.” Trinity sued the DNR claiming it violated the Church’s First Amendment free exercise of religion rights.

It has been a number of years since states and local governments have won a property rights case. But in Murr v. Wisconsin the Supreme Court concluded 5-3 that no taking occurred where state law and local ordinance “merged” nonconforming, adjacent lots under common ownership, meaning the property owners could not sell one of the lots by itself. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), filed an amicus brief, which the Court cited two times, arguing that these very common provisions are constitutional. 

On its last opinion day of the term, the Supreme Court announced that it would rule on the constitutionality of the Trump administration’s revised travel ban. In the meantime to the extent the executive order prevents foreign nationals and refugees “who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” from entering the United States, it may go into effect until the Supreme Court rules on the merits of this case.   

The president’s first executive order prevented people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days, froze decisions on refugee applications for 120 days, and capped total refugee admissions at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017.

The Ninth Circuit temporarily struck it down, concluding this executive order was not religion-neutral, and that it likely violated the due process rights of lawful permanent residents, nonimmigrant visa holders, and refugees.

In Ziglar v. Abbasi, the Supreme Court in a 4-2 decision granted a number of high level federal executive agency officials qualified immunity related to a claim they conspired to violate the equal protection rights of a number of undocumented immigrants held on suspicion of a connection to terrorism after September 11, 2001. 

State and local government officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights.  Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.”

This case doesn’t involve any state or local government officials. But every qualified immunity case matters.

States and local governments don’t particularly care that trademarks aren’t government speech. But they do care about the breadth of the government speech doctrine because government speech is not protected by the First Amendment (meaning governments can say what they want and exclude messages they disagree with).

One small caveat for state legislature: most states have adopted the Model State Trademark Act, which bars state trademark registration on the same basis as Section 2(1) of the Lanham Act, discussed below. 

In Packingham v. North Carolina the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a North Carolina law making it a felony for a registered sex offender to access social networking sites where minors can create profiles violates the First Amendment Free Speech Clause. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing for the opposite result. 

Lester Packingham was charged with violating the North Carolina statute because he praised God on Facebook when a parking ticket was dismissed.

In Gill v. Whitford the Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether and when it is possible to bring a claim that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional.  

While the Court has repeatedly struck down district maps that rely on racial gerrymandering, it has never ruled that maps drawn to secure partisan advantage are unconstitutional. In 2004, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy – who may be the deciding vote in Whitford – wrote a concurring opinion indicating that partisan gerrymandering could be unconstitutional.

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