As Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den illustrates, not all 5-4 Supreme Court cases involve high-profile, controversial issues where the Justices are divided on ideological lines.

In this case the Supreme Court held 5-4 that a treaty forbids the State of Washington from imposing a tax upon members of the Yakama Nation that import fuel.

An 1855 treaty between the United States and the Yakama Nation reserves to the Yamakas “the right, in common with the citizens of the United States, to travel upon all public highways.” A Washington statute taxes fuel importers who bring large quantities of fuel into the state by ground transportation. Cougar Den is a wholesale fuel importer owned by a Yakama member that transports fuel by truck from Oregon to Yakama-owned gas stations in Washington. Cougar Den argued the treaty preempted the tax.

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).

At the same time the federal government has announced a new emphasis on reviewing how well states enforce Medicaid eligibility rules, it has offered a new tool to help states improve accuracy and speed up the eligibility determination process.
In June 2018, the Trump administration announced new initiatives to increase Medicaid program integrity. These initiatives include assuring that states effectively enforce Medicaid beneficiary eligibility rules. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that improper Medicaid payments totaling $11.3 billion were made in 2017 because of state errors in eligibility determinations.

Before an employee alleging employment discrimination under Title VII (on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin) may bring a lawsuit in federal court he or she must exhaust administrative remedies by bringing formal charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (or equivalent state agency).

The question the Supreme Court will decide in Fort Bend County v. Davis is if an employee fails to exhaust administrative remedies with the EEOC before filing a lawsuit is the lawsuit barred. The State and Local Legal Center amicus brief argues the answer to this question is yes.

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Seeking to survey Florida’s occupational licensing regulations for unreasonably onerous provisions, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently held a one-day “Florida Deregathon” workshop at Valencia College in Orlando.

Seventeen of Florida’s 23 licensing boards had representatives in attendance to respond to the challenge posed by DeSantis in his invitation letter to the event: “Our expectation is that each board arrives prepared to roll-up its...

In Madison v. Alabama the Supreme Court held 5-3 that the Eighth Amendment prohibits a person who lacks a “rational understanding” due to mental illness for why the death penalty has been imposed to be put to death regardless of what mental illness the person is suffering from.  

Vernon Madison was sentenced to death for killing a police officer in 1985. Since then he has suffered a series of strokes and has been diagnosed with vascular dementia. He claims he no longer remembers the crime for which he has been sentenced to death.

In Ford v. Wainwright (1986), the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments disallows executing a person who has “lost his sanity” after sentencing.  The Court “clarified the scope of that category in Panetti v. Quarterman [2007] by focusing on whether a prisoner can ‘reach a rational understanding of the reason for [his] execution.’”

This case would have been a lot more interesting had it gone the other way. In an unanimous decision the Supreme Court held in Dawson v. Steager that West Virginia violated a federal statute by taxing all the retirement benefits of former federal law enforcement employees but not certain state law enforcement employees.

4 U.S.C. § 111 allows states to tax the pay of federal employees only “if the taxation does not discriminate . . . because of the source of the pay or compensation.” James Dawson, a former U.S. Marshal, sued West Virginia alleging it violated this statute because it taxed his pension but not the pensions of certain state law enforcement employees. The West Virginia Supreme Court found no discrimination because relatively few state employees received the tax break and the statute’s intent was to benefit those state retirees not harm federal retirees.

In a unanimous decision in Timbs v. Indiana the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is “incorporated” or applicable to the states and local governments.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) amicus brief argued for the opposite result. In the alternative, the brief argued that the forfeiture in this case isn’t unconstitutionally excessive. The Supreme Court didn’t reach the latter question. This case will make it possible for criminal defendants in all 50 states to challenge forfeitures as excessive under the federal constitution.

In an unauthored opinion in Moore v. Texas II the Supreme Court concluded Bobby James Moore has intellectual disability. In Atkins v. Virginia (2002) the Supreme Court held that persons with intellectual disability can’t be executed.

As the dissenting Justices point out, the Supreme Court typically opines whether a lower court has correctly applied as a standard and sends the case back to the lower court if it didn’t. The Supreme Court usually doesn’t apply the standard itself. It may have done so in this case because it previously held the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals failed to correctly apply the intellectual disability standard to Moore in Texas v. Moore (2017) (Moore I).

On Jan. 14, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a memo that reinterpreted a 1961 law designed to combat organized crime involvement in gambling. The Wire Act of 1961 specifically applies to anyone “in the business of betting or wagering” who “uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest.” Evolving telecommunications technology raised questions about the law’s applications, especially once online lottery sales became feasible.
In 2009, the New York State Lottery Division and then-Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn wrote to the DOJ separately to ask for clarification concerning interstate transmission of lottery data. New York argued that all lottery tickets would be bought and sold within the state, but that transaction data may be rerouted to data centers in other states to deal with heavy network traffic and weather issues. They also pointed out that New York had used this system since 2005, and over 40 state lotteries used similar systems. Quinn explained that their state lottery was a pilot program implemented to avoid “an unprecedented fiscal crisis,” and the program was “a key part of the State’s strategy to address this crisis and raise additional revenue to fund critical state programs…”

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