Lisa Soronen

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“I believe that this case is the most important case regarding the energy system in this country that the Supreme Court has ever yet to consider.” Strong words from Former Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) Chairman Jon Wellinghoff (even though the last two landmark cases involving the nation’s electric grid were from 1923 and 1944).

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether FERC may regulate “demand response” payments offered to electric utility customers to reduce their electricity use during periods of high demand. State and local governments may save money through participating in demand response programs. But the Electric Power Supply Association argued, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, that FERC’s Order 745 encroaches on states’ regulatory authority.

In Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar the Supreme Court held 5-4 that a Florida statute prohibiting judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions does not violate the First Amendment. Thirty of the 39 states that elect (rather than appoint) trial or appellate judges prohibit judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign funds. 

In Mach Mining v. EEOC the Supreme Court held unanimously that a court may review whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) satisfied its statutory obligation to attempt to conciliate employment discrimination claims before filing a lawsuit.

The Court’s decision is favorable to employers, including state and local governments, who benefit from the EEOC’s statutory mandate to try to resolve employment discrimination cases before suing employers. If the EEOC fails to try to conciliate employers may sue the EEOC.   

On April 28th the Supreme Court held oral argument in Obergefell v. Hodges. The Court will decide whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry and if they don’t whether states may refuse to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed out of state. As usual swing-Justice Kennedy’s vote will be crucial in this case. And as usual Justice Kennedy’s questions during oral argument didn’t give a clear answer as to what he is thinking.

The Supreme Court’s 7-2 ruling in Oneok v. Learjet is a solid win for states, consumer protection, and the Ninth Circuit. The Court held the Natural Gas Act does not preempt state-law antitrust lawsuits alleging price manipulation that affect both federally regulated wholesale natural-gas prices and nonfederally regulated retail natural-gas prices.

Historically, federal regulation of the natural-gas industry has been divided into three segments:  production, interstate gas pipelines (wholesale), and local gas distribution (retail). The federal Natural Gas Act regulates only the second segment—the interstate shipment of gas including rate setting—states regulate the other segments. Since deregulation in the 1970s, pipeline wholesalers have sold natural gas at market rate based on price indices of voluntarily reported data of natural gas sales. In 2003 the indices were found to be inaccurate because natural-gas traders had been reporting false data. 

In a 6-3 decision in Rodriguez v. United States the Supreme Court held that a dog sniff conducted after a completed traffic stop violates the Fourth Amendment. 

Officer Struble pulled over Dennys Rodriguez after he veered onto the shoulder of the highway and jerked back on the road. Officer Struble ran a records check on Rodriguez, then questioned his passenger and ran a records check on the passenger and called for backup, and next wrote Rodriguez a warning ticket. Seven or eight minutes passed between Officer Struble issuing the warning, back up arriving, and Officer Struble’s drug-sniffing dog alerting for drugs.  Rodriguez argued that prolonging the completed traffic stop without reasonable suspicion in order to conduct the dog sniff violated the Fourth Amendment.

In Kingsley v. Hendrickson the Supreme Court will specify the standard for determining what amount of force used against a pretrial detainee is excessive.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case arguing that the same or similar standard should apply to excessive force claims brought by pretrial detainees and post-conviction detainees. 

To date, the Supreme Court’s docket for next term has less than ten cases.  Two of them involve the death penalty.  Combined, they raise at least three issues.   

It is difficult to know what issues the Court will decide in Hurst v. Florida.  In his certiorari petition Timothy Lee Hurst asked the Court to decide at least six issues.  The Court combined and shortened Hurst’s questions presented to address whether Florida’s death penalty sentencing scheme violates the Sixth (right to a jury trial) and Eighth (no cruel and unusual punishment) Amendments.    

Beginning in the mid-2000s numerous states adopted “Jessica’s” laws requiring GPS monitoring of certain sex offenders.  These statutes have been challenged on a number of grounds—including that they violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches.  Eight states, including North Carolina, monitor for life.             

The Supreme Court ruling that GPS monitoring of certain sex offenders is a Fourth Amendment search doesn’t invalidate these statutes.  But if the lower court—and ultimately the Supreme...

In 2012 in Miller v. Alabama the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that states may not mandate that juvenile offenders be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  In Montgomery v. Louisiana the Court will decide whether Miller is retroactive; that is, whether it should apply to those convicted before the case was decided. 

This case will be decided next term (by the end of June 2016).  The Court agreed to hear a case raising the exact same issue, also from Louisiana, this term.   Toca v. Louisiana was dismissed when George Toca was released from prison after pleading guilty to two counts of armed robbery in exchange for his murder conviction being vacated.   

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