The American judicial system is complicated. How does a case get to the United States Supreme Court? Why are some cases heard in federal court and others in state court? Why do courts refuse to decide some issues? This free CSG eCademy webcast features Lisa Soronen, executive director of the State and Local Legal Center, and Paul Clement, partner at Bancroft PLLC and former U.S. solicitor general who has argued more than 75 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. The presenters explain the basics of how our court system works and how the decisions of this complex judicial system impact state governments.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) has filed an amicus brief in the Ohio Supreme Court urging it to rule that Ohio’s commercial activity tax (CAT) applies to online vendors who sell in the state. The SLLC argues the holding of Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992), that states cannot require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect use tax, should not be extended to a privilege-of-doing-business tax.  

Since the Supreme Court’s term began in early October it has agreed to hear 15 cases—13 at its “long” conference before the term began and two subsequently. Many will have an impact on the states. And a number will only impact specific states (and a territory!).   

While the same-sex marriage and Affordable Care Act cases are the most significant of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014–15 term in general and specifically affecting states, other cases will significantly impact states too. The court decided three tax cases, a Medicaid reimbursement case, two redistricting cases and a Fair Housing Act disparate impact case.

The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reserves powers to states in three broad spheres—a sphere most commonly controlled by local governments, a sphere controlled by state governments, and a shared state and local government sphere. Each state historically followed the English Common Law Ultra Vires Rule, and the state legislature exercised plenary powers over its political subdivisions.

The 2014 mid-term elections magnified the polarization between the political parties in Washington, D.C., and between blue and red states. In that respect, the elections signaled continuity in American federalism. Despite their congressional victories, lacking the presidency,  Republicans are not in a position to effect major intergovernmental change. Increased Republican strength in the states will heighten state-federal conflicts over core Republican issues, while predominantly Democratic states generally will support federal policies endorsed by President Barack Obama. Whether one regards this state of affairs as obstructive or constructive federalism depends on one’s point of view.

While the same-sex marriage and Affordable Care Act cases are the most significant of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014–15 term in general and specifically affecting states, other cases will significantly impact states too. The court will decide three tax cases, a Medicaid reimbursement case, two redistricting cases and a Fair Housing disparate impact case.

Chapter 2 of the 2015 Book of the States contains the following articles and tables:

CSG Midwest

As the U.S. Congress considers legislation to better protect consumers from the threats posed by data breaches and identity theft, the nation’s state attorneys general have delivered a unified message: Don’t pre-empt state laws. Forty-four attorneys general (including 10 from the Midwest) signed the July letter to lawmakers. “Additional protections afforded consumers by a federal law must not diminish the important role states already play,” they wrote.

Federal and state government relations are complicated, and tougher times may be ahead for state legislators as funding for services remains scarce. Three experts discussed the duties, powers and limitations of state governments during a recent CSG eCademy webcast, “How Does the Power Flow in Legislative Branch Federalism?” The webcast was the second in a series of three civics education webinars about the state of federalism.