Lisa Soronen

Author Articles

In Glossip v. Gross the Supreme Court held 5-4 that death row inmates are unlikely to succeed on their claim that using midazolam as a lethal injection drug amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

All death penalty states and the federal government use lethal injection. In Baze v. Rees (2008) the Court approved a three-drug protocol that begins with a sedative, sodium thiopental, followed by a paralytic agent and a drug that causes cardiac arrest. Anti-death penalty advocates have persuaded United States and foreign manufacturers to stop producing sodium thiopental and an alternative, pentobarbital. So, Oklahoma and other states began using midazolam. Oklahoma increased the dose from 100 milligrams to 500 milligrams after Clayton Lockett was moving and talking after being administered 100 milligrams of midazolam. (An investigation into Lockett’s execution concluded that problems establishing IV access was the “single greatest factor that contributed to the difficulty in administering the execution drugs.”)

                In Michigan v. EPA the Supreme Court held 5-4 that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted unreasonably in failing to consider cost when deciding whether regulating mercury emissions from power plants is “appropriate and necessary.” Twenty-three states challenged the regulations.

                The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate air pollution from stationary sources based on how much pollution the source emits. But EPA may only regulate emissions from fossil-fuel-fired power plants if it finds that regulation is “appropriate and necessary.” EPA found it “appropriate” to regulate mercury emissions because they pose a risk to human health and the environment and controls are available to reduce them. EPA found it “necessary” to regulate mercury emissions because other requirements in the Act did not eliminate these risks.

In 5-4 decision in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission the Court held that the Constitution’s Elections Clause permits voters to vest congressional redistricting authority entirely in an independent commission.   

In 2000 Arizona voters adopted Proposition 106 which places all federal redistricting authority in an independent commission. The Elections Clause states:  "[t]he Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations . . . .”

In Horne v. Department of Agriculture the Supreme Court held 8-1 that the federal government violated the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause by physically setting aside a percentage of a grower’s raisin crop each year without pay. At least six other agriculture set aside programs are in trouble as a result of this case. But what about its impact on state and local government?

Horne is a complicated case with four issues. The holding most...

In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Kennedy the Supreme Court held that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. All state laws and court decisions banning same-sex marriage are now invalid.  

Justice Kennedy’s opinion can fairly be described as a celebration of marriage generally.  “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.”

In Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. inclusive Communities Project the Supreme Court held 5-4 that disparate-impact claims may be brought under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Having taken up this question twice before, only to have the cases settle, the Court has finally resolved it.

While state and local governments are more likely to be sued under the FHA, they do occasionally sue others for violating it. Justice Kennedy pointed out at the end of his majority opinion that the City of San Francisco filed an amicus brief supporting disparate-impact liability under the FHA despite being a “potential defendant.”

All federal circuit had decided this issue ruling that such claims were possible. The Supreme Court was expected to come to the opposite conclusion.

In 6-3 decision the Supreme Court ruled today that health insurance tax credits are available on the 34 Federal Exchanges. The Court’s opinion focused largely on the consequences of ruling to the contrary:  the destruction of health insurance markets.

Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, began his opinion by pointing out that the Affordable Care Act relies on three reforms:  making sure health insurance is available to everyone regardless of their heath and not charging higher premiums depending on health, requiring everyone to be insured, and offering tax credits to those with low-income so they can afford insurance. If only the first reforms were implemented a well-documented economic “death spiral” occurs, where health insurance premiums skyrocket, because only the sick buy insurance.

In Kingsley v. Hendrickson the Supreme Court held 5-4 that to prove an excessive force claim a pretrial detainee must show that the officer’s force was objectively unreasonable, rejecting the subjectively unreasonable standard that is more deferential to law enforcement. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case arguing for a subjective standard. As a result of this ruling it will be easier for pretrial detainees to bring successful excessive force claims against corrections officers. The Court suggests that its ruling may also impact post-conviction detainees who are housed by both jails and state prisons.        

Pretrial detainee Michael Kingsley and the officers in this case agree that Kingsley refused to remove a piece of paper covering a light fixture and was forcibly removed from his jail cell so that officers could remove it. While Kingsley claims, and the officers disagree, that Kingsley resisted their efforts to remove his handcuffs and in the process the officers slammed his head against the concrete bunk, the parties agree that Kingsley was tasered. 

In City of Los Angeles v. Patel the Supreme Court held 5-4 that a Los Angeles ordinance requiring hotel and motel operators to make their guest registries available to police without at least a subpoena violates the Fourth Amendment. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia cites to the State and Local Legal Center’s (SLLC) amicus brief, which notes that local governments in at least 41 states have adopted similar ordinances. Eight states also have hotel registry statutes:  Indiana, Florida, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia. 

In Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans the Supreme Court held 5-4 that Texas may deny a proposed specialty license plate design featuring the Confederate flag because specialty license plate designs are government speech. Walker is of particular significance to state and local government because the Court did not narrow the 2009 landmark government speech case Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum.   

The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) proposed a specialty license plate which featured a faint Confederate flag in the background and the organization’s logo, a square Confederate flag. After receiving public comment on the proposed plate the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board unanimously voted against issuing it noting that many members of the general public found the design offensive. SCV sued Texas claiming that specialty plates are private speech and that the Board engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by refusing to approve its design.

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