The NCSL Blog


By Lisa Soronen

The Friday before and the Tuesday after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted a total of nine cases, including a challenge to the president’s executive order allowing undocumented parents of children who are citizens to remain in the United States.

United States v. Texas will be heard this term and decided by the end of June. Oral argument will be held next term in some of the other cases accepted mid-January.

Supreme Court buildingFour of the eight cases accepted, in addition to the immigration case, affect state and local governments.  While I will write more about each of these cases later, for now, below is a brief synopsis of them.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley

The issue in this case is whether Missouri’s “super-Establishment Clause” trumps the federal Free Exercise of Religion Clause. Missouri refused to give Trinity Church preschool a grant to purchase recycled tires to resurface its playground because Missouri’s constitution prohibits aid directly or indirectly to churches. In Locke v. Davey (2004), the Supreme Court held Washington state’s “super-Establishment Clause” prohibiting post-secondary students from using public scholarships to receive a degree in theology did not violate the federal Free Exercise Clause. This case gives the court an opportunity to expand or limit Locke v. Davey outside of the context of state aid for training clergy.

McDonnell v. United States 

A jury found former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell guilty of violating federal fraud statutes. He was accused of having accepted money and lavish gifts in exchange for helping a company secure university testing for a dietary supplement. McDonnell claims he didn’t violate the statutes because he didn’t engage in “official acts” to help the company. He merely extended to it “routine political courtesies: arranging meetings, asking questions, and attending events.” If “official acts” includes such “routine political courtesies,” McDonnell argues the statutes are unconstitutional.

Murr v. Wisconsin

This case involves a possible taking. The Murrs owned contiguous lots which together were just shy of an acre. An ordinance prohibited the individual development or sale of adjacent lots under common ownership that are less than an acre total. The Murrs wanted to use or sell the lots separately. They claim the ordinance resulted in an unconstitutional uncompensated taking. To determine whether a taking occurred they argue each plot should be looked at separately.

Manuel v. City of Joliet

May federal malicious prosecution claims be brought under the Fourth Amendment? In 1994 in Albright v. Oliver the Supreme Court held that they may not be brought under the 14th Amendment. While numerous federal circuits have held that federal malicious prosecution claims are viable under the Fourth Amendment, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagrees. In this case a lab report cleared Elijah Manuel of possessing ecstasy but charges against him were not dismissed for over a month.

Lisa Soronen is the executive director of the State and Local Legal Center and writes frequently for the NCSL blog about the U.S. Supreme Court.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.