federalism

Sprint Communications Co. v. Jacobs

Issues: 

Should federal courts abstain from remedial actions—state administrative proceedings initiated by a private party—involving a federal question?

Sprint brought an action before the Iowa Utility Board to prevent Windstream, then called Iowa Telecom, from cutting off service to Sprint’s customers. After refusing Sprint’s request to cancel the hearing, the Board required Sprint to pay interstate access charges to Windstream. Sprint, thinking that the Iowa Utility Board did not have jurisdiction to make this determination, initiated suits in federal and state courts against Elizabeth S. Jacobs and other members of the Iowa Utility Board in their official capacity. In the federal suit, the district court granted the Board members’ abstention motion under Younger v. Harris—which requires a federal court to abstain from interfering with certain ongoing state judicial proceedings. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the abstention. The Supreme Court will clarify the difference between remedial and coercive actions, and determine whether Younger abstention applies to a federal suit when there is an ongoing remedial action in state court. The Court’s ruling implicates important issues of federalism including whether a party can seek federal judicial review of a state agency’s decision after the party voluntarily initiated the action.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Whether the Eighth Circuit erred by concluding, in conflict with decisions of nine other circuits and this Court, that Younger abstention is warranted not only when there is a related state proceeding that is "coercive" but also when there is a related state proceeding that is, instead, "remedial."

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Bond v. United States

Issues: 

Do the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses, read in connection with the treaty power, allow a statute that was enacted by Congress to enforce a treaty to serve as a valid basis for prosecuting a criminal defendant in Federal District Court?

Petitioner Carol Anne Bond was arrested in 2007 for attempts to poison a romantic rival, which culminated in a minor burn to the rival’s thumb. A federal district court sentenced Bond to six years in prison and five years of supervised release, and ordered her to pay a fine and make restitution, under the authority of the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act. Congress passed that statute to implement an international arms-control agreement to prohibit chemical warfare. Bond challenged her conviction, claiming the statute’s application to her domestic conduct exceeded Congress’ limited and enumerated powers. In reviewing her challenge, the Third Circuit held that Congress’ power to implement treaties validated the statute and Bond’s conviction. The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case will affect not only how broadly federal criminal statutes apply, but also the scope of Congress’ authority to implement treaties.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 
  1. Whether the Constitution’s structural limits on federal authority impose any constraints on the scope of Congress’ authority to enact legislation to implement a valid treaty, at least in circumstances where the federal statute, as applied, goes far beyond the scope of the treaty, intrudes on traditional state prerogatives, and is concededly unnecessary to satisfy the government’s treaty obligations; and
  2. whether the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act, 18 U.S.C. § 229, can be interpreted not to reach ordinary poisoning cases, which have been adequately handled by state and local authorities since the Framing, in order to avoid the difficult constitutional questions involving the scope of and continuing vitality of this Court’s decision in Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416 (1920).

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Metrish v. Lancaster

Issues: 
  1. Does the abolishment of a diminished-capacity defense represent an "unexpected and indefensible" change in state common law in violation of the retroactivity constraints of due process?
  2. Did the Michigan Court of Appeal's retroactive application of the Michigan Supreme Court decision lack justification to the extent that there could be no reasonable disagreement as to justifying habeas relief?

Former Detroit police officer Burt Lancaster shot and killed his girlfriend, Toni King, in 1993. As a result, the State of Michigan charged Burt Lancaster with first-degree murder and possession of a firearm while committing a felony. Although Lancaster, who has a history of mental illness, asserted both defenses of insanity and diminished capacity during his initial trial in 1994, a Michigan jury convicted Lancaster on both counts. Lancaster's conviction was subsequently overturned, however, because of an error made by the State during jury selection. The State of Michigan retried Lancaster in 2005. Although Lancaster planned to rely completely on his diminished capacity defense during his second trial, the Michigan trial court prohibited Lancaster from doing so on the grounds that the Michigan Supreme Court abolished the defense in 2001. As Lancaster was unable to assert the diminished capacity defense at his second trial, the Michigan state court convicted Lancaster once again and sentenced him to life plus two years in prison. Lancaster petitioned the federal courts for a writ of habeas corpus. While the District Court denied Lancaster's petition, the Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that the retroactive application of the Michigan Supreme Court's abolishment of the diminished capacity defense violated federal due process. On appeal, the State of Michigan argues that the Michigan state court's decision to prohibit the diminished capacity defense was not an "unexpected and indefensible" abrogation of Michigan law because the diminished capacity defense has never been expressly provided by Michigan statute nor has it been a part of settled Michigan common law. Lancaster responds that he has the constitutional right to present the diminished capacity defense because the defense was well-settled under Michigan law and available to him at the time he committed the murder. The State of Indiana and others argue in support of Michigan, asserting that diminished capacity is a state law issue and federal courts should defer to a state court's analysis. Lancaster responds that the Michigan state court's decision was unreasonable and that a federal court should independently review the Michigan state court's determination. This decision will further outline the prohibition on changes in state judge-made law by determining when the retroactivity prohibition can be used to justify granting habeas corpus relief and by further defining what constitutes an "unexpected and indefensible" change to the common law.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 
  1. Whether the Michigan Supreme Court's recognition that a state statute abolished the long-maligned diminished-capacity defense was an "unexpected and indefensible" change in a common-law doctrine of criminal law under this Court's retroactivity jurisprudence. See Rogers v. Tennessee, 532 U.S. 451 (2001).
  2. Whether the Michigan Court of Appeals' retroactive application of the Michigan Supreme Court's decision was "so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fair-minded disagreement" so as to justify habeas relief. Harrington v. Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770, 786-87 (2011).

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Facts

In April of 1993, Lancaster shot and killed his girlfriend, Toni King, in a parking lot outside of a Michigan shopping mall. Lancaster v. Metrish, 683 F.3d 740, 742 (6th Cir.

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Sekhar v. United States

Petitioner Giridhar C. Sekhar was convicted of extortion under federal law for threatening to expose an extramarital affair unless the General Counsel for the State Comptroller recommended that the state pension fund invest in a fund managed by Sekhar’s company. The Court will determine the limits of the meaning of the word “property” under federal extortion law, and whether the General Counsel's recommendation was "property" that could be subject to extortion. The Court’s decision will have implications for the scope of federal extortion law and, more generally, for the balance between enforcement of federal and state criminal law when the two overlap. Petitioner argues for a narrow definition of property, limited to something of value that is transferable. Respondent calls for a broader view of property to include the legal advice given by lawyers.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Whether the “recommendation” of an attorney, who is a salaried employee of a governmental agency, in a single instance, is intangible property that can be the subject of an extortion attempt under 18 U.S.C. §1951(a)(the Hobbs Act) and 18 U.S.C. §875(d).

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Issue

Is the recommendation of an attorney considered "property" which can be extorted for purposes of federal anti-extortion law?

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American Trucking Ass

Starting in 2008, one of the busiest ports in the United States, the Port of Los Angeles (POLA), entered into “concession agreements” with motor carriers doing business at the port. POLA enforced the agreements through a system of tariffs levied against noncompliant carriers and remedial provisions that empowered it to revoke noncompliant carriers’ access to the port. The American Trucking Association (ATA) sued POLA, arguing that the agreements were barred under the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA) and the Supreme Court’s decision in Castle v. Hayes Freight Lines, Inc. The Central District of California and Ninth Circuit found that multiple provisions of the concession agreements were exempted from the FAAAA’s preemption clause under the market-participant doctrine and held that Castle did not bar suspension of carriers’ port access because of the FAAAA’s express safety exemption. In resolving the questions presented, the Supreme Court will determine the scope of the market-participant exemption to FAAAA preemption and whether Castle bars POLA from enforcing its concession agreements through revocation or suspension of port access. The case directly affects local and state governments’ power to regulate and contract under the FAAAA and similar Congressional legislation and has broad regulatory implications for motor carriers and other regulated actors in interstate commerce.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Title 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1), originally enacted as a provision of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994, provides that “a State [or] political subdivision . . . may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier ... with respect to the transportation of property.” It contains an exception providing that the express preemption clause “shall not restrict the safety regulatory authority of a State with respect to motor vehicles.” Id. § 14501(c)(2)(A). The questions presented are:

  1. Whether an unexpressed “market participant” exception exists in Section 14501(c)(1) and permits a municipal governmental entity to take action that conflicts with the express preemption clause, occurs in a market in which the municipal entity does not participate, and is unconnected with any interest in the efficient procurement of services.
  2. Whether permitting a municipal governmental entity to bar federally licensed motor carriers from access to a port operates as a partial suspension of the motor carriers’ federal registration, in violation of Castle v. Hayes Freight Lines, Inc., 348 U.S. 61 (1954).

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Issue

Does federal law prevent enforcement of certain aspects of motor carrier-related contracts used by the Port of Los Angeles?

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State of Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona

The state of Arizona passed Proposition 200 by popular referendum. Proposition 200 requires that a person must present proof of citizenship when registering to vote and a voter must present identification when casting a ballot. Multiple parties sued the state of Arizona, arguing that Congress had preempted the states in this area of election law with the National Voter Registration Act. While the Ninth Circuit ruled that the National Voter Registration Act superseded the registration requirement, the court also held that the identification requirement at a polling place is legal. Arizona is now appealing the registration requirement to the Supreme Court, arguing that this falls within their powers and the lower courts are taking a broader view of preemption that is not in line with the past rulings of the Supreme Court. The outcome of this case will play a large role in the ability of the states to pass laws governing voter registration, and the Court’s evaluation of preemption will likely have a large effect on the balance of power between the states and federal government.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Did the court of appeals err 1) in creating a new, heightened preemption test under Article I, Section 4, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution ("the Elections Clause") that is contrary to this Court's authority and conflicts with other circuit court decisions, and 2) in holding that under that test the National Voter Registration Act preempts an Arizona law that requests persons who are registering to vote to show evidence that they are eligible to vote?

Issue

Does the National Voter Registration Act preempt state law to the level that lower courts should afford Congress greater deference under the Elections Clause?

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Shelby County v. Holder

In 2006, Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“VRA”) for 25 years. Section 5 of the VRA requires certain “covered” jurisdictions to obtain federal preclearance before making any alterations to their election laws. Section 4(b) sets forth a formula for determining if a jurisdiction is covered. Petitioner Shelby County, Alabama, a covered jurisdiction, asserts that the preclearance regime exceeds Congress’s power to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and violates the Tenth Amendment and Article IV. Other covered jurisdictions, amicihere, complain that the VRA’s restrictions subject them to a double standard and infringe on their state sovereignty rights. Attorney General Holder, the Respondent, contends that these restrictions are necessary to fight regression among states with a history of voting rights abuses. Shelby County argues that current conditions no longer justify preclearance at all, and that the coverage formula is antiquated in any case. Holder argues that preclearance remains a valid exercise of congressional power and that the formula, in combination with the VRA’s “bailout” provision, creates a coverage regime that meets the requirements of the Constitution.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Whether Congress’s decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 of the VRA under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) exceeded its authority under the Fifteenth Amendment and thus violated the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution.

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Issue

Whether Congress’s twenty-five year extension of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its power to enforce the protections of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

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Edited by: 
Acknowledgments: 

The authors would like to thank former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

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Maracich v. Spears (12-25)

In 2006, several individuals who had bought cars contacted a group of lawyers in South Carolina claiming various car dealerships overcharged them. To investigate this claim, the lawyers requested from the state department of motor vehicles the disclosure of the personal information of thousands of people who had bought from dealerships in Spartanburg County. Under the Driver's Privacy Protection Act ("DPPA"), this information is normally protected from disclosure. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that although the lawyers engaged in mass solicitation without the consent of the person whose information was disclosed, the litigation exception of the DPPA nonetheless protected the lawyers' activity. Petitioner Maracich argues that the DPPA provision requiring the consent of individuals to disclose their personal information imposes a consent requirement onto requests to solicit potential clients for the purpose of litigation. In contrast, Respondent Spears argues that the DPPA exception for litigation waives the consent requirement for solicitation specifically related to litigation. The Supreme Court accepted certiorari on September 25, 2012 to examine the merits of the Fourth Circuit's decision. The outcome of this case may help determine how far lawyers can go to obtain personal information and how far Congress can go to reach into an area traditionally regulated by the States. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

The Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 ("DPPA" or "Act"), 18 U.S.C. §§ 2721- 2725, prohibits the obtainment, use, or disclosure of "personal information" maintained in state motor vehicle department ("DMV") databases, unless the use of such information falls within one of several discrete enumerated exceptions.

This case presents an opportunity for this Court to resolve a conflict among the circuits and even state courts as to the circumstances under which the litigation exception to the Act permits lawyers special rights of access to DPPA protected information.

In this case, the Fourth Circuit became the first court to hold that the acquisition and use by lawyers of confidential information from a DPPA-protected database solely for the purpose of soliciting clients, as opposed to searching for evidence or witnesses, qualified as a use "in connection with" litigation, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2721(b)(4).

The Eleventh Circuit, the Third Circuit, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, on the other hand, have held that the litigation exception does not permit lawyers to obtain or use DPPA-protected information to find or solicit clients. Instead, these courts have made clear that the litigation exception permits use of private information only when the information is relevant or likely to lead to discovery of evidence or witnesses. The Fourth Circuit has crossed that line, thereby inserting into the DPPA what amounts to a "for use by lawyers" exception, as opposed to a "for use in litigation" exception, and further muddling an already confusing and conflicted area of the law.

This petition asks the Court to consider two questions:

1. Whether the Fourth Circuit erred in holding, contrary to every other court heretofore to have considered the issue, that lawyers who obtain, disclose, or use personal information solely to find clients to represent in an incipient lawsuit—as opposed to evidence for use in existing or potential litigation—may seek solace under the litigation exception of the Act.

2. Whether the Fourth Circuit erred in reaching the conclusion (in conflict with prior precedent) that a lawyer who files an action that effectively amounts to a "place holder" lawsuit may thereafter use DPPA-protected personal information to solicit plaintiffs for that action through a direct mail advertising campaign on the grounds that such use is "inextricably intertwined" with "use in litigation."

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Issue

May an attorney obtain an individual's personal information from a state's department of motor vehicles to find plaintiffs for a lawsuit that has already started?

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Johnson v. Williams (11-465)

Tara Williams was on trial in California state court for special circumstances murder and firearm enhancement. During the trial, over Williams’s objections, the court dismissed a juror on the grounds that he was biased against the prosecution. After an alternate replaced the dismissed juror, the jury convicted Williams on both counts. Williams appealed, claiming that the juror’s dismissal had violated California state law as well as her Sixth Amendment rights. The California Court of Appeals affirmed Williams’ conviction, but only did so by addressing her state law claims, ultimately failing to explicitly discuss the Sixth Amendment issues raised. Williams then filed a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 alleging a violation of her Sixth Amendment rights. Though the federal district court denied her petition, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that Williams’ Sixth Amendment claim had not yet been “adjudicated on the merits” within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Warden Deborah K. Johnson appealed, claiming that the California Court of Appeals’ prior ruling was an adjudication on the merits and therefore precluded the subsequent habeas petition.  How the Supreme Court decides the case will determine the degree of deference a federal court hearing a petition for habeas corpus will give a state court decision that does not explicitly address the federal grounds for relief.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Whether a habeas petitioner's claim has been “adjudicated on the merits” for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) where the state court denied relief in an explained decision but did not expressly acknowledge a federal-law basis for the claim.

Issue

Whether an issue not addressed in a state court opinion has been “adjudicated on the merits” for the purposes of federal habeas corpus review when the state court gave a detailed opinion mentioning other claims but apparently ignored the constitutional grounds for relief.

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Edited by: 
Additional Resources: 

Michael O'Hear, A Test for Richter’s Reach (Jan. 31, 2012)

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