Lisa Soronen

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Cooper v. Harris raises an issue litigated over and over since the 2010 census. Challengers claim the North Carolina legislature unconstitutionally packed minority voters into a few legislative districts to lessen their ability to influence races in other districts. The Supreme Court agreed holding 5-3 that a North Carolina District Court correctly ruled that North Carolina relied too heavily on race in designing two majority-minority congressional districts.

The Supreme Court has held that per the Equal Protection Clause if the use of race predominates in redistricting the district’s design must be “narrowly tailored” to serve a “compelling interest.” Complying with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which prohibits vote dilution— “dispersal of [a group’s members] into districts in which they constitute an ineffective minority of voters”—is a compelling interest. A “strong basis in evidence” is needed to show the VRA requires race-based districting.  

In Kindred Nursing Centers v. Clark the Supreme Court held 7-1 that an arbitration agreement entered into by a power of attorney may still be valid even if the power of attorney doesn’t specifically say the representative may enter into arbitration agreements.

Beverly Wellner and Janis Clark moved their husband and mother, respectively, into a nursing home using their powers of attorney. Both wanted to sue the nursing home in court after their relative died. But both had signed contracts stating that any claims would be resolved through arbitration.

The Kentucky Supreme Court concluded that Wellner’s power of attorney wasn’t broad enough to allow her to enter into an arbitration agreement but Clark’s was. Regardless, the court held that both arbitration agreements were invalid because “a power of attorney could not entitle a representative to enter into an arbitration agreement without specifically saying so.” According to the Kentucky Supreme Court, this is because the right to a jury trial under the Kentucky Constitution is the only right declared “sacred” and “inviolate.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review the Fourth Circuit’s decision holding that North Carolina’s voter ID law is unconstitutional and violates the Voting Rights Act.

The Fourth Circuit ruling received a lot of attention because in a sharply worded opinion, which overruled a district court decision, it held the North Carolina’s voter ID law intentionally discriminates against black voters. Most courts which have struck down voter ID laws have done so on the grounds they have a disparate impact on minority voters.  

Imagine how often when police officers are deciding whether to arrest someone they are told a version of a story they don’t find believable. In a Supreme Court amicus brief in District of Columbia v. Wesby the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) argues that the D.C. Circuit erred by applying an inflexible rule that when officers are making arrest decisions they must believe a suspect’s version of the story, even when circumstantial evidence indicates otherwise.

In this case police officers arrested a group of late-night partygoers for trespass. The party-goers gave police conflicting reasons for why they were at the house (birthday party v. bachelor party). Some said “Peaches” invited them to the house; others said they were invited by another guest. Police officers called Peaches who told them she gave the partygoers permission to use the house. But she admitted that she had no permission to use the house herself; she was in the process of renting it. The landlord confirmed by phone that Peaches hadn’t signed a lease. The partygoers were never charged with trespass.

On May 7, 2017, Governor Abbott signed SB 4 into law in Texas. Among numerous other things, it requires local governments to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers, punishable by a Class A misdemeanor.

Many cities and counties don’t respond to warrantless ICE detainers because numerous courts have held that doing so violates the Fourth Amendment. Last month a federal district court concluded that to the extent President Trump’s sanctuary jurisdictions executive order requires honoring warrantless ICE detainers “it is likely unconstitutional under the Tenth Amendment because it seeks to compel the states and local jurisdictions to enforce a federal regulatory program through coercion.”

In Bank of America v. Miami the Supreme Court held 5-3 that local governments have “standing” to bring Fair Housing Act (FHA) lawsuits against banks alleging discriminatory lending practices. But to win these claims local governments must show that their injuries were more than merely foreseeable. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case on the side of the City of Miami.    

Miami claims that Bank of America and Wells Fargo intentionally issued riskier mortgages on less favorable terms to African-American and Latino customers than similarly situated white customers in violation of the FHA. Miami further claims these discriminatory practices caused foreclosures and vacancies which harmed the city by decreasing property values, reducing property tax revenue, and increasing costs to the city.  

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has granted the Trump Administration’s request to hold the Clean Power Plan (CPP) case in abeyance—for 60 days. The court also asked the parties to brief whether the case should be sent back to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which would, practically speaking, invalidate the rule. At 30-day intervals EPA must file status reports with the court.

The court didn’t explain its reasons but likely it is concerned President Trump’s March 28 executive order (EO) Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth means the demise of the version of the CPP the court has been considering. The EO calls for the “suspending, revising, or rescinding,” of the CPP, if appropriate after EPA review.

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.

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