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.

Unfunded mandates. Congressional imposition. The erosion of federalism. These terms often are tossed around as state and the federal governments continue to navigate the tricky waters of federal-state relations, particularly in the legislative branch. In the second in a series of three all-star webinars about the state of federalism as it applies to the states and the federal government, CSG explores the roles of the Congress and state legislatures, highlighting the inter-workings of congressional and elected state legislators. Panelists provide concrete examples, including health care reform, to clarify this relationship, which is crucial to the smooth functioning of the states, but can sometimes be blurry and complicated.

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.