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.

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.

Title 42 of the United States Code §1973(a) states that, “No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color”.  But what happens to groups of Americans who may experience inordinate and disproportionate burdens in pursuit of the right to vote?

Federal, state and local governments can work together, but it’s not often easy. “Often, the federal, state and local relationship has the characteristics of a Cerberus, this is the three-headed monster,” said Ed DeSeve, senior adviser at the Brookings Institution and special adviser to the president of the United States. “Federal, state and local snarling, not being able to get forward.” DeSeve was one of the featured speakers at a recent CSG eCademy, “The Ins and Outs of Executive Branch Federalism.” It was the first of a three-part Civics Education Series.

One of the hottest topics in state capitals from coast to coast is the subject of federalism; ranging from fears about debilitating cutbacks from already-committed federal dollars to questions about how to respond to a broad use of federal branch executive authority. Charged with advancing the role of the states in America’s federal system, the CSG Federalism Task Force is pleased to present a three-part Civics Education Series. This, the first of three eCademy events on federalism's impact across the branches, examines the current relationship between the executive branch and state governments with a view toward providing a fuller understanding of the duties, powers and limitations inherent in our federal system.

If you know anything about the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) you know that it files amicus briefs in U.S. Supreme Court cases affecting state and local government. The SLLC made an exception and filed an amicus brief in a federal circuit court of appeals case because of the importance of the issue to SLLC members.

In Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl the Tenth Circuit will decide whether Colorado’s law requiring remote sellers to inform Colorado purchasers annually of their purchases and send the same information to the Colorado Department of Revenue is unconstitutional. At least three other states have similar notice and reporting requirements (Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Vermont).

Pages