Lisa Soronen

Author Articles

It was a typical oral argument at the Supreme Court in a “big” case. Protesters outside with opposing messages tried to out yell each other, but everyone inside was listening to Justice Kennedy.

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association the Court will decide whether to overrule a nearly 40-year old precedent requiring public sector employees who don’t join the union to pay their “fair share” of collective bargaining costs. More than 20 States have enacted statutes authorizing fair share.

If the Court doesn’t overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) it may instead rule that public employees may be allowed to opt-in rather than required to opt-out of paying “nonchargeable” political union expenditures.

A challenge to President Obama’s immigration deferral program and (another) challenge that could harpoon the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could make it on the Supreme Court’s docket this term and be decided by the end of June.

For the first time at the Supreme Court’s private conference on January 15 it will consider petitions in United States v. Texas (immigration) and Sissel v. Department of Health and Human Services (ACA).

The Court will have three choices: grant the petitions, deny the petitions, or postpone making a decision until a later conference. If it postpones a decision in either case, it must decide at the January 22 conference to accept the cases or they will be heard next term (assuming the petitions are ultimately granted). 

In Heffernan v. City of Paterson, New Jersey the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) Supreme Court amicus brief argues that a government employer’s perception that an employee has exercised his or her First Amendment rights cannot be the basis for a First Amendment retaliation lawsuit. 

Officer Heffernan was assigned to a detail in the Office of Chief of Police. He was reassigned after he was seen picking up a campaign sign for the current police chief’s opponent.

The First Amendment protects non-policymaking public employees who support a candidate in an election. Officer Heffernan maintains that he was in no way involved with the police chief race. The sign wasn’t for himself; it was for his bedridden mother.

This term the Supreme Court has taken two cases from California involving arbitration clauses. One has been decided, the other will be decided later this term. Both cases are of interest to states as they involve preemption of state law by the Federal Arbitration Act.

In Shapiro v. McManus the Supreme Court held unanimously that a three-judge court must be convened to decide a constitutional challenge to a redistricting plan even if the judge to which the request was made doesn’t think the challenger will win.  

Stephen Shapiro, dissatisfied with Maryland’s “crazy-quilt gerrymandering,” sued Maryland arguing its congressional redistricting plan violated his First Amendment right of political association. While a plurality of the Supreme Court stated in Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004) that political gerrymandering cases cannot be brought under the Equal Protection Clause, Justice Kennedy, concurring in the same case, suggested such claims may be possible under the First Amendment.  

Every year the Supreme Court refuses to hear thousands of cases. A denial of certiorari does not mean the Court agrees with the lower court decision. So most cert denials go unnoticed.  

That said, many eyebrows were raised for many reasons when the Court denied cert in Friedman v. City of Highland Park. The issue in the case was whether the City of Highland Park could ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines. 

In today’s Supreme Court oral argument in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, involving race-conscious college admissions, the Court indicated it might send the case back to the lower court for a second time, meaning that the Supreme Court could ultimately hear it for a third time.

Per Texas’s Top Ten Percent Plan, the top ten percent of Texas high school graduates are automatically admitted to UT Austin, which fills about 80 percent of the class. Unless an applicant has an “exceptionally high Academic Index” he or she will be evaluated through a holistic review where race is one of a number of factors.

Texas, like all other states, redistricts based on total population data from the census. A number of Texas voters argue that state legislative districts deviate from the ideal by as much as 45 percent when voting population is used. At oral argument today in Evenwel v. Abbott Justices Kennedy, frequently the Court’s “swing” vote in high-profile cases, asked whether both metrics can be used to comply with one-person, one-vote.

Since the Supreme Court in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) held that state legislative districts have to be roughly equal in population, a question has remained: what population are we talking about?

Like many cases involving the death penalty, Williams v. Pennsylvania is a long story.

Terrance Williams was sentenced to death for killing Amos Norwood during a 1984 robbery in Philadelphia when Williams was eighteen. Williams claimed at trial he did not know Norwood, who was fifty-six.

In 2012 Williams’ co-conspirator Marc Draper revealed, among other things, that the prosecutor urged him to falsely testify that the motive for the murder was robbery, not that Norwood had sexually abused Williams, and the prosecutor wrote an undisclosed letter to the parole board on behalf of Draper. A hearing revealed the prosecutor failed to disclose extensive evidence of Norwood’s homosexual ephebophilia (attraction to teenagers).

When the Virginia legislature redrew congressional voting districts following the 2010 census it increased the number of minority voters in District 3, the state’s only majority-minority district, from 53.1 to 56.3 percent.

The plan was challenged before a three-judge federal district court in Virginia. Plaintiffs argued that the plan unconstitutionally packed minority voters into District 3 thus diluting their ability to influence races in other districts.

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