Lisa Soronen

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In Murr v. Wisconsin the Supreme Court will decide whether merger provisions in state law and local ordinances, where nonconforming, adjacent lots under common ownership are combined for zoning purposes, may result in the unconstitutional taking of property. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing that these very common provisions are constitutional. 

The Murrs owned contiguous lots E and F which together are .98 acres. Lot F contained a cabin and lot E was undeveloped. A St. Croix County merger ordinance prohibits the individual development or sale of adjacent lots under common ownership that are less than one acre total. But the ordinance treats commonly owned adjacent lots of less than an acre as a single, buildable lot.

The Murrs sought and were denied a variance to separately use or sell lots E and F. They claim the ordinance resulted in an unconstitutional uncompensated taking.        

This theory may help states at least indirectly in some instances.  

Fraud against the federal government is a problem for the states in particular when the fraud involves money taken from a federal-state program like Medicaid, which is what was alleged to have happened in Universal Health Services v. U.S. ex. rel. Escobar. The Supreme Court adopted a new theory of liability under the False Claims Act in this case. 

An internet retailer has filed suit against Alabama claiming its new rule requiring all retailers who sell more than $250,000 in goods annually must collect sales tax—regardless of whether the retailer has a physical presence in the state—is unconstitutional.

This lawsuit is the second of its kind. Earlier this spring a lawsuit was filed against South Dakota challenging its law, which is similar to Alabama’s rule.

Last March, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion stating that the “legal system should find an appropriate case for this court to re-examine Quill.”

There are two ways of looking at this case, both of which are hard to argue with: state aid to religious organizations means less money for secular causes, and all preschool students should have access to safe playgrounds no matter where they go to school.

In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley the Supreme Court will decide whether Missouri can refuse to allow a religious preschool to receive a state grant to resurface its playground based on Missouri’s “super-Establishment Clause.”    

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers grants to “qualifying organizations” to purchase recycled tires to resurface playgrounds. The DNR refused to give a grant to Trinity Church’s preschool because Missouri’s constitution prohibits providing state aid directly or indirectly to churches.

The majority of the state constitutions contain “Blaine Amendments” or “super-Establishment Clauses” whose prohibitions against aid to churches and religious schools exceed the requirements of the federal Establishment Clause.     

The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that when a judge had significant prior personal involvement as a prosecutor in a critical decision in the defendant’s case the judge must recuse himself or herself. 

District attorney Castille approved a subordinate prosecutor’s request to seek the death penalty against Terrance Williams. Williams was accused of a robbery and murder which he denied, on the stand, participating in.

Almost 30 years later Williams’s co-conspirator revealed that he had informed the prosecutor on the case that Williams and the victim had a sexual relationship that was the motive for the murder. A lower state court threw out Williams’s execution after discovering extensive prosecutor misconduct. 

Meanwhile, Castille had become Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which was tasked with reviewing the lower court’s decision. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously reversed the lower court. Castille refused to recuse himself.

Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, like many redistricting cases, is complicated. The lower court opinion, including a dissent, is nearly 200 pages long. So it is difficult to know what the Supreme Court will focus on.

But what those challenging the plan seem most upset about is that the lower court concluded race does not “predominate” in redistricting unless the use of race resulted in an “actual conflict” with traditional redistricting criteria. 

Voters from 12 Virginia House of Delegates districts claim their districts were uncon

In Moore v. Texas the Supreme Court will review a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision to apply a previous definition of “intellectually disabled” adopted in a 1992 death penalty case rather than the current definition. Texas Legislature’s failure to act compels its decision, the lower court reasoned.

In Atkins v. Virginia (1992) the Supreme Court held that executing the intellectually disabled violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The Court tasked states with implementing Atkins.

Per federal employment discrimination laws timelines are short and decisive. If an employee misses a deadline his or her case is over. In Green v. Brennan the Supreme Court chose a deadline for constructive discharge cases, where an employee feels compelled to quit due to intolerable working conditions, more favorable to employees.

More specifically, in a 7-1 decision the Court held that the clock begins to run on when an employee must start the process of bringing a constructive discharge case after the employee resigns not after (the earlier date of) the employer’s last discriminatory act.

In a 7-1 opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts the Supreme Court held in Foster v. Chatman that the prosecutor’s decision to exercise preemptory strikes against all four prospective black jurors was racially motivated in violation of Batson v. Kentucky (1986). Five previous lower court rulings on this issue disagreed.    

In 1987 Timothy Tyrone Foster, who is black, was sentenced to death for murdering, sexually assaulting, and burglarizing an elderly white woman. The jury was all-white; the prosecutor peremptorily struck all four prospective black jurors. Prosecutors may strike a number of jurors for any unstated reason except because of race and sex, the Supreme Court has held.

The Supreme Court held unanimously in Wittman v. Personhuballah that three members of Congress from Virginia lacked “standing” to intervene in a lawsuit alleging that Virginia’s redistricting plan resulted in an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. One legislator ultimately told the Court he would not be affected by its decision; the other two legislators failed to identify evidence indicating rejecting Virginia’s plan would harm them.

A redistricting plan amounts to an unconstitutional racial gerrymander in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause if the legislature’s predominant consideration in drawing electoral boundaries was race and the plan fails strict scrutiny (it isn’t narrowly tailored to advance a compelling state interest).

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