Federalism

In American Legion v. American Humanist Society the Supreme Court will decide whether a local government has violated the First Amendment by displaying and maintaining a 93-year-old, 40-foot tall Latin cross memorializing soldiers who died in World War I.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) amicus brief argues the Supreme Court should rule the challengers have no standing to bring this case. The SLLC also argues the cross doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause and that the Court should come up with a single, clear test to evaluate the constitutionality of public displays.  

CSG members had the privilege of hearing from U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft during the 2018 National Conference in Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati on Dec. 6. 

Ambassador Craft and other speakers looked at the current relations between the U.S.A. and Canada, including the negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, and subnational relations involving American states and Canadian provinces. 

At the December 2018 National Conference, CSG members heard from two D.C.-based experts who offered their predictions of what to expect in the coming year. With the mid-term elections over, state leaders are keeping a close eye on the priorities of the new Congress, the Trump Administration, and the Supreme Court. If the last two years is an indicator, there could be a variety of policies enacted in Washington that will have a major impact of state and local governments. 

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) has been waiting for this day for a long time. In Kisor v. Wilkie the Supreme Court will decide whether to overturn Auer deference to federal agencies.

In Auer v. Robbins (1997) the Supreme Court reaffirmed its holding in Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. (1945) that courts must defer to a federal agency’s interpretation of its own regulations (even if that interpretation is articulated for the first time in an amicus brief during litigation).

State and local governments have long been critical of Auer deference of a number of reasons. First, it gives agencies a lot of authority in every area in which any agency regulates. Second, Auer deference negatively affects state and local governments because they are regulated by federal agencies and regulate in the same space as federal agencies.

The Court’s grant of this petition isn’t all that surprising. Neither will it be surprising if the Court overturns Auer deference. Recently, all five of the conservative Justices, except Justice Kavanaugh—perhaps only due to his short tenure on the Court, have either written or joined an opinion criticizing Auer deference or agency deference more generally.

States and local governments have long been skeptical of the requirement that courts defer to agency interpretations of statutes because such deference gives unelected agencies a lot of power. In PDR Network, LLC v. Carlton & Harris Chiropractic Inc. the lower court required something worse: blind adherence to an agency order.

The Hobbs Act vests the federal courts of appeals with “exclusive jurisdiction” to “enjoin, set aside, suspend (in whole or in part), or to determine the validity of” certain orders made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and orders of the Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Transportation, Federal Maritime Commission, Atomic Energy Commission, and others.

According to one lower court the Hobbs Act “promotes judicial efficiency, vests an appellate panel rather than a single district judge with the power of agency review, and allows uniform, nationwide interpretation of the federal statute by the centralized expert agency.”

The repeal of net neutrality rules under the Obama administration has now been in effect for four months. During this time, states have re-enacted the rules at the state level, urged the federal government to reinstate the rules, and appealed the decision to a D.C. federal court. Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers—including Verizon, AT&T, Spectrum, and others—should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.

Herrera v. Wyoming is a case of dueling Supreme Court precedent.

Clayvin Herrera, a member of the Crow tribe, shot an elk in Big Horn National Forest in Wyoming. He was charged with hunting without a license during a closed season. Herrera claims that an 1868 treaty giving the Crow the right to hunt on the “unoccupied lands of the United States” allowed him to hunt on this land.

In Herrera v. Wyoming the Supreme Court will decide whether Wyoming's admission to the Union or the establishment of the Big Horn National Forest abrogated the Crow’s treaty right to hunt in Big Horn National Forest.

State sovereignty is front and center in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt. This case is before the U.S. Supreme Court for (possibly a record-breaking) third time. This time the Supreme Court will decide whether to overrule Nevada v. Hall (1979), which permits a state to be sued in the courts of another state without its consent. In Hyatt II (2016), the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on this question shortly after Justice Scalia died.   

Chapter 2 of The Book of the States 2018 contains the following tables:

As of the end of July, Justice Anthony Kennedy is retired. For states and local governments he will be forever remembered as the Justice who championed allowing online sales tax collection.

In March 2015, Justice Kennedy wrote that the “legal system should find an appropriate case for this Court to reexamine Quill,” which held that businesses without a physical presence in the state did not have to collect sales tax. In his last majority opinion on the bench, South Dakota v. Wayfair, the Supreme Court overturned Quill.

Justice Kennedy was a pivotal Justice for most of his thirty year tenure on the Supreme Court. He often provided the Court’s crucial fifth vote on hot-button national issues. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice Kennedy blazed a middle path, writing part of the opinion that moved the Court slightly to the right while declining to overrule Roe v. Wade. In LGBTQ cases Justice Kennedy played a much more progressive role, writing for the majority to strike down a law allowing for same-sex discrimination and eventually striking down gay marriage bans in Obergefell v. Hodges.

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