Supreme Court

In a per curiam (unauthored) unanimous opinion in City of Escondido v. Emmons the Supreme Court granted one police officer qualified immunity and instructed the Ninth Circuit to decide again whether another officer should have been granted qualified immunity. As it has done many times before, the Supreme Court criticized the Ninth Circuit for defining the right at issue (here to be free from excessive force) at too high a level of generality.

In April 2013 police arrested Maggie Emmons’ husband at their apartment for domestic violence. A few weeks later, after Maggie’s husband had been released, police received a 911 call from Maggie’s roommate’s mother, Trina. While Trina was on the phone with her daughter she overheard Maggie and her daughter yelling at each other and Maggie’s daughter screaming for help.

When the officers knocked on the door no one answered but they were able to try to convince Maggie to open the door by talking to her through a side window. An unidentified male told Maggie to back away from the window. Officer Craig was the only officer standing outside the door when a man walked out of the apartment. Officer Craig told the man not to close the door but he did and he tried to brush past Officer Craig. Officer Craig stopped him, took him to the ground, and handcuffed him. The man was Maggie’s father, Marty Emmons. He sued Officer Craig and Sergeant Toth, another officer at the scene, for excessive force.

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.  

In 1986 a majority of the Supreme Court agreed that partisan gerrymandering may be unconstitutional in certain circumstances. But in that case and since then the Court has failed to agree on a standard for when partisan gerrymandering crosses the line.

Last term in Gill v. Whitford the Supreme Court again failed to articulate a standard for unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. Instead, it held that the challengers failed to demonstrate they had standing to bring their case.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two partisan gerrymandering cases this term.

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.

In a decision difficult to understand without context the Supreme Court held that “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) must also be habitat. In Weyerhaeuser Co. v. United State Fish and Wildlife Service the Court also held a federal court may review an agency decision not to exclude an area from critical habitat because of the economic impact. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief on the latter issue arguing in favor of the result the Court reached.

The United State Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) listed the dusky gopher frog as an endangered species. It designated as its “critical habitat” a site called Unit 1 in Louisiana owned or leased by Weyerhaeuser Company, a timber company. The frog hasn’t been seen at this location since 1965. As of today Unit 1 has all of the features the frog needs to survive except “open-canopy forests,” which the Services claims can be restored with “reasonable effort.”

Weyerhaeuser argued Unit 1 could not be a “critical habitat” for the frog because it could not survive without an open-canopy forests. The Fifth Circuit disagreed holding that the definition of critical habitat contains no “habitability requirement.”

The Supreme Court held unanimously that “critical habitat” must be habitat. The ESA states that when the Secretary lists a species as endangered he or she must also “designate any habitat of such species which is then considered to be critical habitat.”

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