News

voteThe justices of the U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to hear yet another election law case, this time from Texas and concerning the “one-person one vote” principle of the 14th Amendment.

That’s the rule requiring that to the extent possible voting districts be drawn with same-sized populations  — so that one person’s voting power is roughly equivalent to another person’s within a state.

Here’s more from Rick Hasen at the Election Law Blog:

In a surprise move, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from a three judge court in Evenwel v. Abbott, a one-person, one vote case involving the counting of non-citizens in the creation of electoral districts. Ed Blum, the force behind the Fisher anti-affirmative action case and the Shelby County case striking down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act is also behind this case. The question involves whether Texas can draw districts using total population rather than total voters, an issue especially important given non-citizen Latinos living in parts of Texas. The claim is that representatives from these areas with non-citizens get too much moving power. A ruling in favor of the challengers would be a boost for areas with fewer numbers of non-citizens living there.

News

Bar studyA new study released today by the North Carolina Bar Association shows that the state court system generated more than $460 million in direct economic impact and supported more than 6,000 jobs here last year.

“The study reveals what we have known all along – our courts have an enormous impact on our economy and deserve adequate funding in order to serve the needs of North Carolina citizens and businesses,” NCBA president Catharine Arrowood said.

The association commissioned the study as part of renewed efforts to educate state residents and lawmakers about the critical role the courts play not only in protecting citizens’ rights but also in supporting the state’s economy.

Despite the demonstrated economic impact, the courts have take unprecedented hits over the last five years, seeing budgets slashed by as much as 30 percent in some areas.

“The study shows that cuts in funding over the past four years have totaled $35 million,”Arrowood added. “This reduction in direct spending has had a cumulative four-year total impact on the North Carolina economy just over $67 million in reduced spending.”

Read the full report here.

 

News

FrackingA Wake County Superior Court judge effectively halted fracking in the state for the time being when he stayed proceedings in a constitutional challenge to the state’s Mining and Energy Commission brought by a local conservation group and landowner.

The stay continues while the appeal of a separate case challenging commission appointment powers — McCrory v. Berger — is pending, during which time the MEC is enjoined from accepting or processing permit applications for drilling units and from creating any drilling units.

The order today comes in a lawsuit in which plaintiffs allege that the composition of the MEC violates the separation of powers provision of the state Constitution because a majority of the commission’s members are political appointees by the legislature, and that the fracking rules, created by an unconstitutional commission, are therefore null and void.

Those allegations are similar to what’s been asserted in the McCrory v. Berger case, in which Gov. Pat McCrory and former Governors Hunt and Martin are challenging legislative appointments to the Coal Ash Commission, Oil and Gas Commission, and the MEC as violations of the separation of powers provisions of the State Constitution.

The governors’ case is set for argument before the state Supreme Court on June 30.

“Today’s decision stopped any immediate harm to North Carolina residents from a commission formed by the state legislature in violation of the separation of powers firmly established in our state constitution pending further court deliberations,” John Suttles, the senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represented the plaintiffs said in a statement.

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News

Supreme courtThe U.S. Supreme Court has begun clearing the decks en route to the end of its term in late June, handing down six opinions yesterday.

Though none came in the high profile cases — Obamacare or same-sex marriage, for example, which will likely be handed down in the court’s last week — yesterday’s decisions still involved some issues worth noting.

In Henderson v. United States, a unanimous court held that convicted felons could sell or otherwise dispose of their guns to independent third parties.

More here at SCOTUSblog:

When people are arrested, they often surrender their firearms to police. Once those people are convicted of felonies, they can no longer lawfully possess their weapons. In this situation, the Supreme Court unanimously concluded, the felon can ask the government to transfer his firearms to an independent third party. This includes transfers to dealers for sale on the open market, but in some circumstances can also include directed transfers to specific people.

In Tibble v. Edison International, a likewise unanimous court held that employee retirement plan managers have a continuing duty to monitor investments and act “with prudence” to protect funds beyond that exercised when initially selecting such investments.

More here from Forbes:

“The Court’s decision confirms that fiduciaries cannot go on autopilot,” said John Donovan, a partner in the Boston office of Ropes & Gray, in an e-mailed comment. “Managing investments in ERISA plans involves not only prudently selecting those investments in the first place, but monitoring them to make sure that they remain prudent.”

In City of San Francisco v. Sheehan,  the court ruled in a narrow 6-2 decision that police officers have some leeway to fire their guns to subdue a mentally disturbed person who is violently threatening them. (Justice Stephen Breyer took no part because his brother, a federal judge in California, had ruled on the case in a lower court.)

More here from SCOTUSblog:

The Court provided little new guidance on the larger question of how the Fourth Amendment applies to claims that police used unnecessary force in carrying out arrests or other confrontations with the public — an issue that has gained new intensity in the wake of incidents in Ferguson, Mo., and other communities in recent months.

At most, the Court on Monday declared that it was not clearly established seven years ago, when the San Francisco incident occurred, that the Fourth Amendment requires police to take special precautionary steps to accommodate the mental disability of a person whom they are trying to subdue.   Because that was not the law at the time, the two officers had legal immunity from the woman’s claim that the Fourth Amendment require such an accommodation.

And in Comptroller v. Wynne, a divided court (5-4) held that Maryland’s personal income tax law violated the constitution because it doesn’t give residents a full tax credit for income tax paid out of state.

More here from the Washington Post:

[T]he state’s practice of withholding a credit on the county segment of the state income tax wrongly exposes some residents with out-of-state income to double taxation. The justices said the provision violated the Constitution’s commerce clause because it might discourage individuals from doing business across state lines.

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News

Image of DENR commemorative coin

Duke Energy entered a guilty plea yesterday to misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act in connection with coal ash contamination at several of its plants here, but the federal investigation may not be over, according to this report in the Charlotte Business Journal.

U.S. Attorneys involved in the investigation would not confirm whether the investigation is ongoing, but they did admit that no further charges would be lodged against Duke Energy.

As reported in the Journal:

John Cruden, assistant attorney general for the Environmental Crimes Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, confirmed after court Thursday that Duke faces no further criminal charges. But he would not say the investigation is closed. Asked if he knew whether there could be any additional investigation, he said, “Yes, I do know, but I cannot tell you.”

Duke Energy’s attorney Jim Cooney pointed to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resource as a likely target.

“The government is still investigating the DENR side of the house,” Cooney told the Journal. “We have agreed to provide documents and to cooperate with that investigation.”

And DENR did not deny that the investigation is continuing.

“We continue to fully cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s office and our focus remains protecting the environment and holding Duke Energy accountable for its environmental violations,” the agency said in a statement yesterday.

Lax enforcement of environmental rules and regulations against Duke Energy in recent years is one of the areas the Justice Department intended to explore when it issued grand jury subpoenas last year.

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