Lisa Soronen

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If you missed the Supreme Court's decision in Northwest v. Ginsberg it is understandable.  The case had been much overshadowed by the Court's decision the same day in the campaign finance case discussed here in this blog.  

In Northwest v. Ginsberg the Supreme Court held unanimously that an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim related to Northwest terminating membership in its frequent flyer miles program was preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) because the implied covenant claim was based on a state-imposed obligation.

The biggest cases of the Supreme Court’s term generally come down at the end of June. The campaign finance case probably makes most Court watchers' big three (or at least big five) list.  But, in an unusual move, the opinion came down the first week of April.  

The Court struck down aggregate limits on individual contributions to candidates for federal office, political parties, and political action committees.  McCutcheon v. FEC will likely impact the dozen or so states that place aggregate limits on individual campaign contributions to candidates for state office.    

In Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States the Court held 8-1 that a private party, rather than the federal government, owns an abandoned railroad right-of-way granted by the General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875.  When the federal government owns abandoned railroad rights-of-way, state and local governments may convert them into “Rails-to-Trails.”  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus curiae brief in this case.

What do the Supreme Court cases where corporations challenge the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate on religious grounds have to do with state government?  Nothing, at least on the surface.  But if you dig a little deeper the outcome of this case could affect state and local land use decisions.  That is why the State and Local Legal Center filed an amicus brief in this case. 

In Wood v. Moss the Court will decide whether Secret Service agents engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination when they moved anti-Bush protesters about one block further from the President than pro-Bush demonstrators.  The Court also will decide whether the lower court evaluated the viewpoint discrimination claim at too high a level of generality when determining whether the agents should have been granted qualified immunity.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case.  

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in Plumhoff v. Rickard, where the Supreme Court will decide whether police officers are entitled to qualified immunity for the use of deadly force in a high speed chase. 

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.”  Qualified immunity is intended to protect “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”

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.

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