Federalism

One can’t help but wonder if the Supreme Court decided to hear Allen v. Cooper because it involves a pirate ship. The (not very glamorous) legal issue the Supreme Court will decide is whether states can be sued in federal court for copyright violations.

North Carolina owns a ship pirate Blackbeard captured, renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge, and sunk between 1717-18. In the late 1990s North Carolina permitted a private research and salvage firm to photograph the ship. North Carolina continued to own the shipwreck and its artifacts, and the company could make money from the sale of media related to the ship. Frederick Allen, who was hired by the salvage firm to take photos and videos of the ship, sued North Carolina for infringing on images Allen copyrighted.

The Eleventh Amendment protects states and state officials acting in their official capacity from being sued in federal court. Congress may abrogate sovereign immunity by making a clear statement of its intent and validly exercising congressional power. Allen claims North Carolina can be sued in federal court for infringing on his copyright because Congress abrogated states’ sovereign immunity in the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act. 

What will invariably get everyone’s attention about this case is it is the second 5-4 decision where Justice Gorsuch has joined the four more liberal Justices to rule in favor of a tribe. And a ruling in the Court’s most interesting tribal case of the term is yet to come. But none of this should distract from the holding of this case.    

The Supreme Court answered yes to the question in Herrera v. Wyoming of whether an old treaty allowing Native Americans to hunt on federal land is still valid. According to an amicus brief filed by the Crow Tribe “[a]t least nineteen tribes, in at least a dozen treaties, reserved for themselves the right to hunt on Federal lands away from their respective reservations.”

In 1868 the Crow Tribe ceded most of its territory in what is now Montana and Wyoming to the United States in exchange for an agreement the Crow could “hunt on the unoccupied lands of the United State.” Clayvin Herrera invoked this treaty to defend against a charge of violating state law by off-season hunting in Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming.

In a 5-4 opinion the Supreme Court held that the treaty’s hunting rights survived Wyoming’s statehood and that lands in the Bighorn National Forest aren’t categorically “occupied” because they are in a national reserve.

Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt (Hyatt III) is a win for state sovereignty, albeit an obscure victory. In this case the Supreme Court overturned precedent to hold 5-4 that states are immune from private lawsuits brought in courts of other states.

Since 1993 Gilbert Hyatt and the Franchise Tax Board of California (FTB) have been involved in a dispute over Hyatt’s 1991 and 1992 tax returns. FTB claims that Hyatt owes California taxes from income he earned in California. Hyatt claims he lived in Nevada during the relevant time period. Hyatt sued FTB in Nevada claiming FTB committed a number of torts during the audit.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) states that any information contained in the Form I-9, which is used to verify a person’s eligibility to work in the United States, may only be used for limited federal enforcement. The question the Supreme Court will decide in Kansas v. Garcia is whether the IRCA preempts states from using information contained in the I-9 to prosecute a person under state law (in this case for identity theft).

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in Kisor v. Wilkie asking the Supreme Court to overturn Auer v. Robbins (1997). It that case the Supreme Court reaffirmed its holding in Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. (1945) that courts must defer to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations.

In Kisor v. Wilkie the Federal Circuit deferred to the Veterans Administration’s (VA) definition of “relevant” when determining whether a veteran’s claim for benefits can be reconsidered.

CSG Midwest
In November, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could dramatically limit states’ and localities’ ability to levy criminal fines and asset forfeitures. The central question in ...

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.

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