Lisa Soronen

Author Articles

A federal district court has issued a nationwide preliminary injunction preventing the Trump administration from enforcing the sanctuary jurisdictions portion of the Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States executive order (EO).

The court was asked to accept two very different versions of what this EO means to determine whether it had jurisdiction to hear this case. The most important dispute between the parties is how much federal funding is on the line. The judge chose the Santa Clara and San Francisco version accusing the Department of Justice (DOJ) of trying to “read out all of Section 9(a)’s unconstitutional directives to render it an ominous, misleading, and ultimately toothless threat.”

Justice Gorsuch is certainly aware of that fact that his confirmation was one of the most political in recent memory. Only time, and perhaps his idiosyncrasies on the bench, will tell us whether, like Chief Justice Roberts, he is concerned about the Court being perceived as apolitical.  

It is difficult for those of us who treasure our democracy and our legal system in particular to accept the notion that Supreme Court Justices (and even regular old judges) are chosen for political reasons. We want to believe that our judges dole out the law evenly, intelligently, and objectively and are picked based on their perceived ability to do so--with justice as the end result.

But beyond the thin veneer of choosing someone with stellar academic credentials who has had an impressive legal career, politics always looms large in the selection of Supreme Court Justices. This is as much because a President doesn’t want to see measures he worked on overturned and wants his political party to succeed, as it is that Supreme Court Justices are a key part of a President’s legacy. A 49-year-old Justice like Gorsuch may sit on the Court for 30 years.   

In Nelson v. Colorado the Supreme Court struck down a Colorado law requiring defendants whose criminal convictions have been invalidated to prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence in order to receive a refund of fees, court costs, and restitution. According to the Court in a 7-1 opinion, this scheme violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process.

Shannon Nelson was convicted on a number of charges from the alleged sexual and physical abuse of her children. Her conviction was reversed due to a trial court error; a new jury acquitted her of all charges. Louis Alanzo Madden was convicted of two sex crimes. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed his conviction; the state did not appeal or retry the case.

The only way Nelson or Madden could recover fees, court costs, and restitution was filing a civil claim under Colorado’s Exoneration Act, which requires them to show by clear and convincing evidence their actual innocence.

In Coventry Health Care of Missouri v. Nevils the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) asked the Supreme Court in its amicus brief to rule that Chevron deference does not apply when an agency is construing the scope of a statute’s preemption provision, absent Congress’s assent. The Court didn’t rule on (or even discuss) this issue in its brief, unanimous opinion.

The Court held that the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act (FEHBA) preemption clause overrides state laws prohibiting subrogation and reimbursement and that the preemption clause is consistent with the Supremacy Clause.    

Artis v. District of Columbia might not have gotten a second look if it didn’t involve a city—but even if it had been brought against a non-government entity it would still affect any entity that gets sued regularly—including states and local governments.

In this case a year after the fact, Stephanie Artis sued the District of Columbia in federal court bringing a number of federal and state law claims related to her termination as a code inspector. It took the federal district court over two and a half years to rule on her claims. It dismissed her sole federal claim as “facially deficient” and no longer had jurisdiction to decide the state law claims.

28 U.S.C 1367(d) states that statutes of limitations for state law claims pending in federal court shall be “tolled” for a period of 30 days after they are dismissed (unless state law provides a longer tolling period).

In a 7-1 decision in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections the Supreme Court rejected the notions that race predominates in redistricting only when there is an actual conflict between traditional redistricting criteria and race and that the predominance analysis should apply only to new district lines that appear to deviate from traditional redistricting criteria.

Regarding District 75, where the lower court determined race did predominate, the Supreme Court agreed the State’s use of race was narrowly tailored because it had “good reasons to believe” that a target of a 55% black voting-age population (BVAP) was necessary to avoid diminishing the ability of black voters to elect their preferred candidate.

If state legislatures don’t create an exception to their “no-impeachment” rules for jurors who make racially biased statements courts will read such an exception into their rules of evidence following the Supreme Court’s 5-3 decision in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado. At least 16 states already have adopted such an exception.  

Most states, including Colorado, and the federal government have a “no-impeachment” rule which prevents jurors from testifying after a verdict about what happened during deliberations with limited exceptions that do not include that a juror expressed racial bias. The rationale behind no-impeachment rules is to decrease the chances of juror being harassed post-verdict and to encourage jurors to “engage in searching and candid deliberations.”

The Seventh Circuit has become the first federal circuit court of appeals to rule that employees may bring sexual orientation discrimination claims under Title VII. This case directly affects state and local governments in their capacity as employers in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of a person’s “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

Kimberly Hively is openly lesbian. She sued Ivy Tech Community College where she taught as a part-time, adjunct professor. She applied for at least six full-time positions between 2009 and 2014, didn’t receive any of them, and in July 2014 her part-time contract was not renewed. She believes her sexual orientation is the reason.  

Five days after assuming office President Trump signed an executive order threatening to take away federal funding from so-called sanctuary jurisdictions. The executive order leaves it to the Secretary of Homeland Security to define “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Unsurprisingly, a number of cities and counties have sued the President over this executive order including San Francisco, Santa Clara County, and Richmond, California, and Lawrence and Chelsea, Massachusetts.  

By mid-April a court will likely grant or deny a preliminary injunction in the Santa Clara County case. At this point we know the legal allegations the cities and counties have made against the President, and the President has responded to the Santa Clara County and San Francisco lawsuits.

The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to hold “in abeyance” litigation over whether a federal district court or a federal court of appeals has jurisdiction to rule whether the current 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) definitional rule violates the Clean Water Act. On April 2 the Supreme Court denied the motion meaning the litigation will proceed.

President Trump’s February 28 executive order Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the "Waters of the United States" Rule calls for the “rescinding or revising” of the WOTUS rule. Many state and local governments objected to the broad nature of this rule, in particular to the expansive definition of ditches and the ambiguous definition of tributaries. 

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