TagSupreme Court

Plaintiffs challenging Kansas’ congressional district boundaries file appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

On November 23, 2022, the plaintiffs in Alonzo v. Schwab filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS). The petition—which asks SCOTUS to hear the case— challenges the Kansas Supreme Court’s May 2022 decision upholding that state’s congressional redistricting plan.

The petitioners allege that the Kansas Supreme Court erroneously ruled “that intentional racial discrimination in redistricting is unconstitutional only if it prevents the formation of a majority-minority district.” The petition also states that “The court did not disagree with the district court’s factual finding, based upon substantial evidence, that the Legislature split Wyandotte County (home to Kansas City) along starkly racial lines in order to eliminate the ability of minority voters to continue electing their preferred candidate; the court simply held that it was irrelevant because those voters were insufficiently numerous to constitute a majority-minority district.”

On June 21, 2022, the Kansas Supreme Court overturned a state district court’s decision that had found that the state’s congressional district boundaries were unconstitutional. The state supreme court’s order said, “The record below demonstrates that plaintiffs did not ask the district court to apply the correct applicable legal tests to their race-based claims. The district court, in turn, did not apply these legal tests to plaintiffs’ race-based claims. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the district court did not make the requisite fact-findings to satisfy either legal test applicable to plaintiffs’ race-based equal protection claims. Therefore, on the record before us, plaintiffs have failed to satisfy their burden to meet the legal elements required for a showing of unlawful racial gerrymandering or unlawful race-based vote dilution.”

On April 25, 2022, Wyandotte County District Court Judge Bill Klapper struck down Kansas’ enacted congressional map. The judge’s ruling stated, “The Court has no difficulty finding, as a factual matter, that Ad Astra 2 is an intentional, effective pro-Republican gerrymander that systemically dilutes the votes of Democratic Kansans.” Klapper’s opinion also said that the state’s new district boundaries “intentionally and effectively dilutes minority votes in violation of the Kansas Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.”

Klapper ruled on a case that resulted from the consolidation of three lawsuits challenging congressional district boundaries that were enacted when the legislature overrode Gov. Laura Kelly’s (D) veto on February 9, 2022. The House of Representatives overrode Kelly’s veto 85-37, with all votes in favor by Republicans, and 36 Democrats and one Republican voting to sustain the veto. The Senate overrode Kelly’s veto 27-11 strictly along party lines, with all votes in favor by Republicans and all votes opposed by Democrats.

After the legislature overrode Kelly’s veto, Andrew Bahl of the Topeka Capital-Journal wrote that the “maps were hotly contested, largely for the decision to split Wyandotte County and put part of the Kansas City, Kan., area in the 2nd Congressional District, a move that endangers the state’s lone Democrat in Congress, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, and, Democrats argue, unfairly divides minority communities.”

Davids defeated Amanda Adkins (R) and Steve Hohe (L) in the November 8, 2022, general election for Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, receiving 55% of the vote. Davids was first elected to the U.S. House in 2018 and was one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, alongside former Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.).

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U.S. Supreme Court to hear oral argument Dec. 7 on elections case

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in Moore v. Harper on Dec. 7, the last day of its’ December sitting.

Moore v. Harper concerns the elections clause in Article I, section 4 of the Constitution and whether state legislatures alone are empowered by the Constitution to regulate federal elections without oversight from state courts.

The petitioner—North Carolina House of Representatives Speaker Tim Moore (R)—presented to the court the following question: “Whether a State’s judicial branch may nullify the regulations governing the ‘Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives . . . prescribed . . . by the Legislature thereof,’ U.S. CONST. art. I, § 4, cl. 1, and replace them with regulations of the state courts’ own devising, based on vague state constitutional provisions purportedly vesting the state judiciary with power to prescribe whatever rules it deems appropriate to ensure a ‘fair’ or ‘free’ election.

Below is a timeline of the major developments in the case:

  • November 4, 2021: The North Carolina General Assembly adopted new congressional district boundaries after the 2020 census. Subsequently, a group of Democratic Party-affiliated voters and nonprofit organizations challenged the boundaries in state court, alleging that the new map was a partisan gerrymander that violated the state constitution.
  • February 4, 2022: The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the state could not use the map in the 2022 elections and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. The trial court adopted a new congressional map drawn by three court-appointed experts.
  • February 25, 2022: Prior to the state’s May 17 primary, Republican state legislators filed an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking to halt the state court’s order until SCOTUS could review the case. The court denied the request with Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch dissenting. In the dissent and in a concurrence by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the justices stated that the independent state legislature doctrine was an important question for the court to resolve.
  • March 17, 2022: North Carolina House Speaker Moore filed a petition to the Court for a writ of certiorari.
  • June 30, 2022: The U.S. Supreme Court granted review of the case.

Seventy amicus briefs have been filed in the case, with 17 filed in support of the petitioners, 48 filed in support of the respondents, and five in support of neither party. An amicus curiae is a person or group who is not a party to a legal action, but has a strong interest in the matter and has petitioned the court to submit a brief offering relevant information or arguments.

If the court rules in favor of the petitioners, the power and authority to regulate federal elections would become more concentrated in state legislatures and with the federal judiciary in the event of appellate review. When the case was granted, Republicans controlled 54.1% of all state legislative seats nationally, while Democrats held 44.3%. Republicans held a majority in 62 chambers, Democrats held the majority in 36 chambers, and one chamber—the Alaska House of Representatives—was organized under a multipartisan, power-sharing coalition.

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U.S. Supreme Court announces it will hear arguments on Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan

The U.S. Supreme Court on December 1 said it will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by six states over the Biden administration’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 of federal student loan debt per borrower in February.

The announcement came after Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar asked the court on November 18 to lift the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit’s pause on the plan. The appeals court initially blocked the plan on October 21 and extended the pause on November 14.

The six states (Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Carolina) filed a joint lawsuit against the Biden administration on September 29. The states alleged the administration overstepped its executive authority under the HEROES Act. The states also argued that the Department of Education was legally required to collect student loans and could not stop collecting without congressional approval. They also alleged the administration’s forgiveness plan would harm their investments and reduce their tax revenues, which was, in their view, a sufficient basis to sue.

If the forgiveness plan survives court challenges, it would cancel $10,000 in student loan debt per person for individual tax filers making less than $125,000 or married filers with less than $250,000 in income. Pell Grant recipients are eligible to have an additional $10,000 forgiven under the plan.

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  1. State responses to federal mandates
  2. Court cases related to federalism
  3. Legislation related to federalism

Texas sues Biden administration over guidance requiring abortions in medical emergencies

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) sued the Biden administration July 14 after Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra released guidance July 11 requiring doctors to provide abortions in medical emergencies when “abortion is the stabilizing treatment necessary to resolve [the emergency] condition.” The guidance went on to say that “when a state law prohibits abortion and does not include an exception for the life and health of the pregnant person — or draws the exception more narrowly than EMTALA’s emergency medical condition definition — that state law is preempted.”

Paxton argued the guidance was too broad and that the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act did not cover abortions. He said, “The Biden administration seeks to transform every emergency room in the country into a walk-in abortion clinic.”

Texas law prohibits all abortions unless a pregnancy “places the female at risk of death or poses a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.”

The HHS guidance came after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on June 24, overturning Roe v. Wade (1973) and ruling there is no constitutional right to abortion. Dobbs returned most abortion policy decisions to the states.

For more information on Dobbs and its effect on abortion policy, click here. To learn more about state responses to federal mandates, click here.

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Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Abortion regulations by state

Supreme Court rules there is no constitutional right to abortion; overturns Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) released its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on June 24, in which it held there is no right to abortion under the U.S. Constitution. The court’s decision explicitly overturned its previous rulings in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey (1992). The decision in Dobbs came nearly eight weeks after a draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion was leaked on May 2.

In a 6-3 opinion written by Justice Alito, the court reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit‘s decision and upheld the Mississippi abortion law at issue in the case. In a 5-4 vote, the court found there is no constitutional right to abortion and overruled Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion in 1973,and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, which upheld that decision with some restrictions in 1992. Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett joined Alito’s majority opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts concurred in the judgment upholding the Mississippi law but did not join the vote to overturn Roe and Casey. Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan jointly filed a dissenting opinion.

The court has issued decisions in 57 cases this term, which leaves seven cases yet to be decided. The court is scheduled to release more opinions on July 27.

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SCOTUS accepts three new cases for its 2022-2023 term

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) accepted three cases on March 28 for argument during its October 2022-2023 term. To date, the court has agreed to hear arguments in nine cases next term.

National Pork Producers Council v. Ross concerns the constitutionality of the conditions California’s Proposition 12 imposes on pork producers nationwide in order to sell pork in the state. The questions presented to the court are: “1. Whether allegations that a state law has dramatic economic effects largely outside of the state and requires pervasive changes to an integrated nationwide industry state a violation of the dormant Commerce Clause, or whether the extraterritoriality principle described in this Court’s decisions is now a dead letter. 2. Whether such allegations, concerning a law that is based solely on preferences regarding out-of-state housing of farm animals, state a Pike claim.” The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Cruz v. Arizona concerns the proper application of U.S. Supreme Court precedent during state capital cases’ sentencing and appellate review. The court was asked to consider the following question: “Whether the Arizona Supreme Court’s holding that Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1(g) precluded post-conviction relief is an adequate and independent state-law ground for the judgment.” The case came to the court from the Arizona Supreme Court.

Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith concerns the definition of a transformative work for purposes of the fair use defense under federal copyright law. The question presented in the case asks: “What does it mean for a work of art to be “transformative” as a matter of law under the Copyright Act?” The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

The court will begin hearing cases for its 2022-2023 term on Oct. 3, 2022.

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U.S. Supreme Court blocks Wisconsin state legislative maps

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision on March 23 adopting Gov. Tony Evers’ (D) state house and senate redistricting maps and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Supreme Court found that the Wisconsin Supreme Court erred in its analysis of precedent on how the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause should apply in race-based districting cases.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court wrote: “The question that our [Voting Rights Act of 1965] precedents ask and the court failed to answer is whether a race-neutral alternative that did not add a seventh majority-black district would deny black voters equal political opportunity. Answering that question requires an ‘intensely local appraisal’ of the challenged district.” The Supreme Court ruled the state supreme court did not conduct the appraisal correctly, writing, “When the Wisconsin Supreme Court endeavored to undertake a full strict-scrutiny analysis, it did not do so properly under our precedents, and its judgment cannot stand.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote an opinion dissenting from the court’s judgment, joined by Justice Elena Kagan. In her dissent, Sotomayor wrote: “The Court’s action today is unprecedented…Despite the fact that summary reversals are generally reserved for decisions in violation of settled law, the Court today faults the State Supreme Court for its failure to comply with an obligation that, under existing precedent, is hazy at best.” Sotomayor said because the state court “rightly preserved the possibility that an appropriate plaintiff could bring an equal protection or [Voting Rights Act] challenge in the proper forum,” she “would allow that process to unfold, rather than further complicating these proceedings with legal confusion through a summary reversal.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court must now reconsider the case and decide how to redraw the state’s legislative districts. According to the U.S. Supreme Court opinion, the state court “is free to take additional evidence if it prefers to reconsider the Governor’s maps rather than choose from among the other submissions. Any new analysis, however, must comply with our equal protection jurisprudence.”

The case is the fourth legal challenge to district maps to reach the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2020 redistricting cycle. In a 5-4 order on Feb. 7, the court allowed a proposed Alabama congressional redistricting map to be implemented while under challenge in federal court for illegal racial gerrymandering in the case Merrill v. Milligan. The court issued orders on March 7 in two redistricting cases, Moore v. Harper in North Carolina and Toth v. Chapman in Pennsylvania, upholding the enacted congressional maps in both states.

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SCOTUS issues opinions in two cases

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued rulings in two cases on March 3: United States v. Zubaydah and Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, P.S.C.

In Zubaydah, the court reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s ruling in a 7-2 vote and remanded the case for further proceedings. SCOTUS held that the 9th Circuit erred by ruling that state-secrets privilege did not apply to information that could confirm or deny the existence of a CIA detention site in Poland in regard to Zubaydah’s discovery application. Justice Stephen Breyer authored the court’s majority opinion. Justice Neil Gorsuch dissented, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Click here for more information about the ruling. 

In Cameron, the court ruled 8-1 to reverse the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit’s ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the 6th Circuit erred in denying Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s motion to intervene and defend Kentucky House Bill 454. Justice Samuel Alito delivered the majority opinion, and Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion. Click here for more information about the ruling. 

To date, the court has issued decisions in 11 cases this term. Between 2007 and 2020, SCOTUS released opinions in 1,062 cases, averaging between 70 and 90 cases per year.

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Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court

President Joe Biden (D) announced on Feb. 25 he would nominate Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by Stephen Breyer. In a statement, the White House said: “Jackson is an exceptionally qualified nominee as well as an historic nominee, and the Senate should move forward with a fair and timely hearing and confirmation.”

Jackson currently serves as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She was nominated to the post by Biden in April 2021, and was confirmed with a 53-44 Senate vote on June 14, 2021. She was elevated to the position from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, where she served as a judge from 2013 to 2021. She has also worked in private practice, as a federal public defender, on former President Barack Obama’s Sentencing Commission, and as a law clerk for Breyer.

Breyer announced his retirement on Jan. 27, saying it would take effect at the end of the court’s 2022 summer recess, which typically takes place in late June or early July. SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe called Breyer “a devoted pragmatist and the senior member of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing.” Regarding Breyer’s decision to retire, Howe wrote: “Although Breyer is apparently in good health and by all accounts enjoys his job, Democrats began calling for him to retire shortly after the 2020 election so that President Joe Biden could nominate a younger judge to take his place.”

Following Breyer’s retirement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that “President Biden’s nominee will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed.” 

Jackson’s path to the bench will first require consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which typically culminates in public hearings. If approved by a vote of the committee, her nomination will then be put up to a confirmation vote before the full Senate. Her confirmation vote can take place before Breyer leaves the court, with her swearing-in delayed until his departure.

Jackson’s confirmation vote will be the first to take place in a Senate with a 50-50 partisan split. In recent years, U.S. Supreme Court confirmation votes have grown more partisan. Since Justice Samuel Alito’s confirmation in 2006, nominees have received an average of 4 yes votes from senators who don’t caucus with the President’s party. Since 1967, when the Senate held its first roll call confirmation vote after Hawaii became the 50th state, the overall average of opposition party confirmation yes votes is 29. These averages do not include votes cast by independent or third-party senators.

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U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether veterans may challenge VA decisions based on illegal regulations

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear George v. McDonough in an order released on Jan. 14, 2022. The case concerns whether veterans may challenge U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) decisions based on regulations that are found to be in violation of the plain text of governing statutes. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules that veterans may challenge VA decisions based on regulations that are later found to be invalid, veterans whose disability claims were denied on those grounds may seek to have the agency revise its decisions.

The VA denied Kevin George’s 1970s disability claim based on a regulation that did not require the agency to prove that his military service did not aggravate his condition. Decades later, a court ruled that the regulation was invalid because it violated the unambiguous text of the relevant statute. George sought to have the VA reconsider his claim following the court ruling, arguing that reliance on the faulty regulation constituted “clear and unmistakable error” (CUE).

The Federal Circuit held that George could not show that the VA committed CUE in his case because the agency applied the law as it was understood at the time. George appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that when federal courts interpret an unambiguous statute they establish what the law always meant instead of changing the meaning.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to schedule oral argument in the case during its October 2021-2022 term

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