Seventh Circuit Holds Employees May Bring Sexual Orientation Employment Discrimination Claims

The Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals’ ruling in Hively v. Ivy Tech provides a wider interpretation of nondiscrimination law.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, the Supreme Court upheld the law’s application to the private sector. The Seventh Circuit’s new ruling holds that the ban on “sex discrimination” in Title VII encompasses sexual orientation, making it illegal for employers to discriminate against gay, lesbian and bisexual workers. (Getty Images)

The Seventh Circuit Court has become the first federal circuit court of appeals to rule that employees may bring sexual orientation discrimination claims under Title VII. Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College directly affects state and local governments in their capacity as employers in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of a person’s “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”

Kimberly Hively is openly lesbian. Last August, she sued Ivy Tech Community College, where she taught as a part-time adjunct professor, claiming the school was violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against her. She applied for at least six full-time positions between 2009 and 2014, didn’t receive any of them, and in July 2014 her part-time contract was not renewed. She believes her sexual orientation is the reason.

The Seventh Circuit had long held that sexual orientation discrimination claims weren’t cognizable under Title VII. The court decided to revisit this conclusion “in light of developments at the Supreme Court extending over two decades.” These decisions include Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which granted same-sex couples a constitutional right to marry.

Hively offered two theories for why “sex discrimination” includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, both of which the 8-3 en banc panel found persuasive.

First, the court considered the “comparative method” in which it asked if Hively might have been treated the same way if everything else in the situation was constant except Hively’s sex. Hively alleged that, had she been a man romantically involved with a woman, she would have been promoted and not fired. So, in short, she was disadvantaged because she is a woman.

Likewise, the U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that sex stereotyping is a form of sex discrimination. “Hively represents the ultimate case of failure to conform to the female stereotype (at least as understood in a place such as modern America, which views heterosexuality as the norm and other forms of sexuality as exceptional): she is not heterosexual.”

Second, in Loving v. Virginia (1967), the Supreme Court held that bans on interracial marriage are unconstitutional. According to the Seventh Circuit per Loving, “[i]t is now accepted that a person who is discriminated against because of the protected characteristic of one with whom she associates is actually being disadvantaged because of her own traits.”

Miscegenation laws were defended because both parties were barred from marrying each other, but the Supreme Court rejected that rationale. If you change the sex of one of the partners in a lesbian couple (just like if you change the race of one person in an interracial couple) “the outcome would be different.” According to the court, “[t]his reveals that the discrimination rests on distinctions drawn according to sex.”

The Supreme Court is likely to review Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College because it creates a circuit split on the meaning of a key term in Title VII. For Hively to prevail, Justice Kennedy’s vote is likely critical.

This term, the Supreme Court was supposed to decide whether transgender students have a right to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. would have required the court to interpret Title IX’s language “on the basis of sex.”

The Supreme Court sent this case back to the Fourth Circuit to rehear because President Donald Trump’s Department of Education (DOE) pulled a “Dear Colleague” letter written by President Barack Obama’s DOE interpreting the phrase “on the basis of sex” to include gender identity.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), which files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations, including the National League of Cities, representing state and local governments. She is a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Update: The Gorsuch Confirmation Hearings

While federalism was rarely discussed, and preemption wasn’t discussed at all, one particular issue of interest to local governments was explored at length.

Judge Neil Gorsuch testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (Wikimedia Commons)

Confirmation hearings generally follow a predictable course, and Judge Neil Gorsuch’s hearings have been no exception. In most cases, senators not aligned with the president’s political party ask the nominee pointed questions on controversial topics which the nominee does his or her best to politely avoid answering. As a result, issues of interest to state and local governments often receive little meaningful attention.

Apart from two notable exceptions during Judge Gorsuch’s hearings – one occasion when a friendly Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) asked Judge Gorsuch whether his ruling in a particular case was consistent with the “principle of states as laboratories of democracy,” and another occasion when friendly Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) asked Judge Gorsuch to discuss the Tenth Amendment – federalism was rarely discussed, and preemption wasn’t discussed at all. Likewise, many issues of particular importance to local governments, such as qualified immunity and property rights, were also not explored.

Judge Gorsuch did state numerous times that judges should not act as legislators. “I get four law clerks, [each] for one year at a time. If you were to make laws, you wouldn’t design a system where you’d let three older people with four law clerks straight out of law school legislate for a country of 320 million people.”

Judge Gorsuch was also not asked about his concurring opinion from last year in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl in which he strongly implied that, given the opportunity, the U.S. Supreme Court should overrule Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992). In Quill, the Supreme Court held that states cannot require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect sales tax.

The issue of most interest to state and local governments discussed more at length was Justice Gorsuch’s views on Chevron deference.

In Chevron v. NRDC (1984), the Supreme Court held that courts should defer to reasonable agency interpretations of ambiguous statutes. State and local governments generally prefer that courts not defer to federal agency regulations because this deference gives federal agencies a lot of power.

Less than six months ago, Judge Gorsuch criticized Chevron deference in a concurring opinion, leading to speculation that, if he becomes a Supreme Court Justice, he would vote to overrule Chevron. When asked about this concurring opinion, Judge Gorsuch stated that he wrote separately “to tee up questions for my bosses [the Supreme Court justices].” He continued: “I don’t know how I would rule if I were a Supreme Court justice on the question.”

Apart from the question of whether Judge Gorsuch believes in precedent (he does, and has written a book about it), three additional cases/topics came up repeatedly during the confirmation hearings. Judge Gorsuch avoided expressing opinions on Roe v. Wade (1973; abortion) and Citizens United v. FEC (2010; campaign finance), stating they are “the law of the land.” He was also asked to defend his dissenting opinion in the “frozen-trucker case” wherein the majority of the court ruled in favor of a truck driver who claimed he was wrongfully fired for disregarding his supervisor’s instructions to stay with a broken down trailer in freezing weather.

Unsurprisingly, Judge Gorsuch came to the hearings prepared. When accused of not being a friend to the “little guy,” he cited a long list of cases where he ruled in favor of the “little guy.” When asked if he is an originalist (one who interprets the Constitution’s meaning as stable from the time of enactment), he rejected being labeled and pointed to cases where liberal justices have tried to determine the framer’s intent in interpreting a provision of the U.S. Constitution. More fundamentally, he tried to portray himself as well within the legal mainstream. Finally, he noted that he rarely dissents – but when he has, he has done so “in about equal numbers from judges appointed by presidents from the two parties.”

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), which files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations representing state and local governments. She is a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

What’s Next for the Second Blocked Travel Ban?

Judges in Hawaii and Maryland recently prevented parts of the second executive order on refugees from going into effect temporarily, citing likely violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

President Trump’s second travel ban prohibits refugees and other visitors from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Getty Images)

On March 16, 2017, President Donald Trump’s second travel ban executive order was scheduled to be enacted. Within hours of each other, federal judges from Hawaii and Maryland issued decisions temporarily preventing portions of it from going into effect nationwide. Both decisions conclude that the executive order likely violates the Establishment Clause because it was intended to prevent people from for entering the United States on the basis of religion.

The State of Hawaii (and an American citizen of Egyptian descent with a Syrian mother-in-law lacking a visa) brought the case decided by the court in Hawaii.

The president’s first executive order prevented people from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days. The Ninth Circuit temporarily struck it down, concluding it likely violated the due process rights of lawful permanent residents, non-immigrant visa holders, and refugees.

The second executive order prevents people from six predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days, but only applies to new visa applicants and allows for case-by-case waivers.

The Establishment Clause prevents the government from preferring one religion over another. To that end, laws must have a secular purpose.

The Hawaii judge reasoned that “a reasonable, objective observer enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequences of events leading to its issuance” would conclude the executive order was intended to disfavor Muslims despite its “stated, religiously-neutral purpose.” More specifically, the court relied on numerous statements made by the president himself indicating he wanted a “Muslim ban.”

The Maryland judge’s analysis of the purpose of the travel ban is very similar to that of the Hawaii judge, but the Maryland judge spends more time dismissing the notion that national security concerns were the real reason for the travel ban. “The fact that the White House took the highly irregular step of first introducing the travel ban without receiving the input and judgment of the relevant national security agencies strongly suggests that the religious purpose was primary, and the national security purpose, even if legitimate, is a secondary post hoc rationale.”

President Trump has three options at this point. First, he can appeal both rulings to the Ninth and Fourth Circuits, respectively, like he did when a federal district court judge in the state of Washington struck down the first travel ban. Three-judge panels will decide whether to affirm the lower court decisions. Second, he can go back to the drawing board again and issue a third travel ban. Finally, he can abandon altogether the adoption of a travel ban.

Initial comments made by the president indicate he would like to take this travel ban (as well as the first one) all the way to the Supreme Court.

On March 15, 2017, the full Ninth Circuit issued an opinion stating that it would not rehear the case regarding the first travel ban. Interestingly, five Ninth Circuit judges dissented from this decision, concluding that the first travel ban was “well within the powers of the presidency.”

If the president appeals the Hawaii ruling to the Ninth Circuit, it is possible that the three-judge panel could include between zero and three of these dissenting judges.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), which files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations representing state and local governments. She is a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Supreme Court Will Not Decide Transgender Bathroom Case

The case revolves around the interpretation of a federal regulation that bans discrimination “on the basis of sex” in schools that receive federal money. The legal question is whether it can also ban discrimination based on gender identity.

The Trump Administration’s reversal of a rule on transgender students’ rights has effectively removed the case from the Court’s docket. (Getty Images)

The Supreme Court will not decide – at least not this term – whether transgender students have a right to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity, due to changes in position on this issue from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration.

Title IX prohibits school districts that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the basis of sex.” A Title IX regulation states that, if school districts maintain separate bathrooms (locker rooms, showers, etc.) “on the basis of sex,” they must provide comparable facilities for the other sex.

In a 2015 letter, the Department of Education (DOE) interpreted the Title IX regulation to mean that, if schools provide for separate boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. DOE and the Department of Justice reaffirmed this stance in a May 2016 “Dear Colleague” letter.

On February 22, 2017, DOE issued a “Dear Colleague” letter withdrawing the previous letters. The new “Dear Colleague” letter takes no position on whether the term “sex” in Title IX includes gender identity.

G.G. is transgender. The Gloucester County School Board prevented him from using the boy’s bathroom. He sued the district arguing that is discriminated against him in violation of Title IX.

In November 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to decide two questions in Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. First, should it defer to DOE’s letter interpreting the regulation? Second, putting the letter aside, should the Title IX regulation be interpreted as DOE suggests?

The Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of G.G. The court gave Auer deference to DOE’s letter. Per Auer v. Robbins (1997), a court generally must defer to an agency’s interpretation of its ambiguous regulations. According to the Fourth Circuit, the Title IX regulation is ambiguous because it is “susceptible to more than one plausible reading because it permits both the Board’s reading (determining maleness or femaleness with reference exclusively to genitalia) and the Department’s interpretation (determining maleness or femaleness with reference to gender identity).”

Despite the 2015 and 2016 letters being rescinded, both parties still wanted the Supreme Court to decide this case. As the parties pointed out, the second question – how to interpret the Title IX regulations regardless of DOE’s position – doesn’t depend on the views of either administration.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has sent this case back to the Fourth Circuit to rehear it in light of the new “Dear Colleague” letter. That ruling may again to appealed to the Supreme Court.

It seems likely that sooner rather than later, and probably with the benefit of nine Justices, the Supreme Court will again be considering the question of the rights of transgender students.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), which files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations representing state and local governments. She is a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

The Trump Administration and Waters of the U.S.

President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order aimed at rolling back the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, an Obama-era rule designed to protect the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources. What will happen to current WOTUS litigation following the president’s recent executive order?

(Getty Images)

Per the Clean Water Act, “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) are parcels of land, such as the wetlands pictured above, which are federally regulated by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. (Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s executive order Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the “Waters of the United States” Rule calls for the “rescinding or revising” of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) definitional rule published in the summer of 2015. Many state and local governments objected to the broad nature of these regulations, in particular to the expansive definition of ditches and the ambiguous definition of tributaries.

“The EPA so-called Waters of the United States rule is one of the worst examples of federal regulation, and it has truly run amok, and is one of the rules most strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers all across our land,” said President Trump on Tuesday.

The executive order acknowledges that rewriting the WOTUS definitional regulations will require going through the lengthy and complicated process under the Administrative Procedures Act which the 2015 final regulations endured. This process involves proposing a new rule, receiving and responding to (likely thousands) of comments, and issuing a final rule.

The current WOTUS regulations are subject to complicated litigation. In October 2015, the Sixth Circuit issued a temporary stay of the regulations preventing them from going into effect nationally. In February 2016, the Sixth Circuit ruled that it, rather than a federal district court, has jurisdiction to rule on whether the WOTUS rule exceeded the Clean Water Act.

In January 2017 the Supreme Court agreed to review the Sixth Circuit ruling that an appellate court – not a district court – has jurisdiction to rule on WOTUS. This case, National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, will not be heard until late 2017, meaning the Supreme Court may not issue an opinion in this case until as late as June 2018.

What will be the fate of all this WOTUS litigation over the current rule in light of the executive order? We don’t know – but the executive order directs the Attorney General to “inform any court of such review and take such measures as he deems appropriate concerning any such litigation pending the completion of further administrative proceedings related to the rule.”

The Attorney General may ask the Sixth Circuit to voluntarily vacate its decision temporarily staying the regulations, given that the new administration intends to change them. The Sixth Circuit is more likely to agree to this if none of the parties object. A number of states and environmental groups have intervened in support of the current WOTUS regulations and may object.

If the Sixth Circuit vacates the stay, the practical effect is that the current regulations would no longer be valid. Vacatur of the Sixth Circuit stay also would likely render moot the Supreme Court challenge on jurisdiction. If the Sixth Circuit refuses (or isn’t asked) to vacate the Sixth Circuit decision regarding the stay, the Supreme Court jurisdiction litigation is likely to proceed indefinitely.

Given that defining WOTUS has been so difficult and contentious, almost no matter what new definition is proposed it too will be subject to litigation.

The executive order instructs that Justice Antonin Scalia’s decision in Rapanos v. United States be “considered” in defining the term “navigable waters.” Rapanos is a 4-1-4 decision. Justice Scalia wrote the plurality opinion, defining this term more narrowly than Justice Kennedy’s solo concurring opinion. The Sixth Circuit considered Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion controlling. If the new definition of WOTUS relies on Justice Scalia’s opinion, it will almost certainly be challenged on this ground, along with many others.

Interested in more WOTUS news? Lisa Soronen contributed a previous CitiesSpeak blog post about the jurisdictional determinations issued by the Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), which files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations representing state and local governments. She is a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

What’s Next for the Supreme Court’s Transgender Bathroom Case?

The case revolves around the interpretation of a federal regulation that bans discrimination “on the basis of sex” in schools that receive federal money. The legal question is whether it can also ban discrimination based on gender identity.

hear oral argument in the case next month, if not before. (Getty Images)

Although the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case next month, if not before, the Trump administration’s reversal of a rule on transgender students’ rights could potentially remove the case from the Court’s docket. (Getty Images)

The fate of the most controversial case the Supreme Court has agreed to decide this term is uncertain now that the Department of Education (DOE) has issued a “Dear Colleague” letter withdrawing a previous letter requiring school districts to allow transgender students to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity.

Title IX prohibits school districts that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the basis of sex.” A Title IX regulation states that, if school districts maintain separate bathrooms (locker rooms, showers, etc.) “on the basis of sex,” they must provide comparable facilities for the other sex. In a 2015 letter DOE interpreted the Title IX regulation to mean that, if schools provide for separate boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. The new “Dear Colleague” letter takes no position on whether the term “sex” in Title IX includes gender identity.

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide two questions in Gloucester County School Board v. G.G.  First, should it defer to DOE’s letter interpreting the regulation? Second, putting the letter aside, should the Title IX regulation be interpreted as DOE suggests?

G.G. is biologically female but identifies as a male. The Gloucester County School Board prevented him from using the boy’s bathroom. He sued the district, arguing that it discriminated against him in violation of Title IX. The Fourth Circuit Court ruled in favor of G.G, giving Auer deference to DOE’s letter.

Per Auer v. Robbins (1997), a court generally must defer to an agency’s interpretation of its ambiguous regulations. According to the Fourth Circuit, the Title IX regulation is ambiguous because it is “susceptible to more than one plausible reading because it permits both the Board’s reading (determining maleness or femaleness with reference exclusively to genitalia) and the Department’s interpretation (determining maleness or femaleness with reference to gender identity).”

Despite the 2015 letter being rescinded, both parties still want the Supreme Court to decide this case. On SCOTUSblog, Amy Howe describes some of the Court’s options: “Among other things, they could send the case back to the Fourth Circuit for it to weigh in more fully on the Title IX question in light of the government’s changed position, or they could forge ahead and rule on that question themselves. At the very least, we should know more about the justices’ inclinations when they hear oral arguments in the case next month, if not before.”

Putting aside the factual context of this case, state and local governments, acting through the State and Local Legal Center, have criticized Auer deference in Supreme Court amicus briefs. The Gloucester County School Board asked the Supreme Court to decide whether to overturn Auer, but the Court refused to consider this question.

Two states – Tennessee and Arkansas – have passed laws that preempt local non-discrimination provisions.

“Preemption efforts – where state law nullifies a municipal ordinance or authority – lead to a loss of local control and can have far-reaching economic and social impacts in our communities,” said National League of Cities (NLC) CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony. NLC’s latest report, City Rights in an Era of Preemption, examines the prevalence of state preemption across the country.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), which files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations representing state and local governments. She is a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Supreme Court Midterm Review for Local Governments 2017

The Supreme Court’s 2016-2017 docket is now set – and a number of cases will directly impact local governments.

photo - Supreme Court in Spring with Fountain

The Court may decide to rehear tied (4-4) cases next term, when a new Justice will presumably join the bench. (Getty Images)

This article covers cases of interest to local governments which the Court accepted after September 15, 2016 and agreed to hear this term. (Here is a summary of cases of interest to local governments which the Court agreed to hear before September 15, 2016.) The Court is still down a Justice, but has accepted as many cases as usual (about 75) on its 2016-2017 docket. In theory, all the cases discussed below will be decided by June 30, 2017.

The Supreme Court’s decision from this term most likely to receive significant media attention involves a transgender student who wants to use the bathroom consistent with his gender identity. However, Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. will not directly affect local governments.

Provocation

In Los Angeles County v. Mendez,* the Supreme Court must decide whether to accept or reject the Ninth Circuit’s “provocation” rule. Per this rule, “where an officer intentionally or recklessly provokes a violent confrontation, if the provocation is an independent Fourth Amendment violation, he may be held liable for his otherwise defensive use of deadly force.”

It is undisputed that police officers used reasonable force when they shot Angel Mendez. As officers entered, unannounced, the shack where Mendez was living they saw a silhouette of Mendez pointing what looked like a rifle at them. Yet the Ninth Circuit awarded him and his wife damages because the officers didn’t have a warrant to search the shack, thereby “provoking” Mendez.

The Mendezes also argue that, putting the provocation theory aside, the officers are liable in this case because their unconstitutional entry “proximately caused” them to shoot Mendez. Many Americans own guns, so the Court argued it is reasonably foreseeable that, if officers barge into a shack unannounced, the person in the shack may be holding a gun.

Qualified Immunity

United States Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa, Jr., shot and killed Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, a fifteen-year-old Mexican national, who was standing on the Mexico side of the U.S.-Mexico border. At the time of the shooting, Agent Mesa didn’t know that Hernandez was a Mexican citizen.

One question in Mesa v. Hernandez is whether qualified immunity may be granted or denied based on facts unknown to the officer at the time of the incident, such as the victim’s legal status. The Fifth Circuit granted Agent Mesa qualified immunity based on the fact that Hernandez was a Mexican citizen even though Agent Mesa didn’t know that at the time of the shooting.

Given the rapid pace of police work, it is not unusual for officers to learn a variety of information after they have used force, which supports their qualified immunity claim (i.e. the person they shot had a gun, had threatened another officer or citizen, etc.). Considering this kind of after-the-fact information in the qualified immunity analysis would be favorable to officers.

But the question in this case is whether qualified immunity may be granted or denied based on facts discovered later. In some cases, officers may learn after-the-fact information that undermines their claim for qualified immunity (i.e. the person they shot stated he had a weapon but did not, had been mistakenly perceived to have threatened another officer or citizen, etc.). Considering this kind of after-the-fact information in the qualified immunity analysis would be unfavorable to officers.

Free Speech

During the fall, the Supreme Court accepted three First Amendment free speech cases. This is not good news for local governments, as the Supreme Court routinely and sometimes unanimously votes against states and local governments in First Amendment free speech cases.

Packingham v. North Carolina* is probably the First Amendment case of most interest to local governments as the Supreme Court is likely to discuss whether the statute at issue in the case is content-based or content-neutral.

The issue in this case is whether a North Carolina law prohibiting registered sex offenders from accessing commercial social networking websites, where the registered sex offender knows minors can create or maintain a profile, violates the First Amendment.

Lester Packingham was charged with violating the North Carolina statute because he accessed Facebook. In the posting that got him in trouble, Packingham thanked God for the dismissal of a ticket.

If a statute limits speech based on content, it is subject to strict (nearly always fatal) scrutiny. In Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona (2015), the Supreme Court held that the definition of content-based is very broad.

The North Carolina Supreme Court concluded that the statute is a “content-neutral” regulation because it “imposed a ban on accessing certain defined commercial social networking websites without regard to any content or message conveyed on those sites.”

Waters of the U.S.

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether federal courts of appeals versus federal district courts have the authority to rule whether the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) regulations are lawful in National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense.

Per the Clean Water Act, a number of decisions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator must be heard directly in federal courts of appeals, including agency actions “in issuing or denying any permit.”

A definitional regulation like the WOTUS regulation does not involve the issuing or denying of a permit. Nevertheless, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that it has jurisdiction to decide whether the WOTUS regulations are lawful.

Judge McKeague, writing for the court, relied on a 2009 Sixth Circuit decision National Cotton Council v. EPA, holding that this provision encompasses “not only… actions issuing or denying particular permits, but also… regulations governing the issuance of permits.” The definition of WOTUS impacts permitting requirements.

…and more

The work of the Supreme Court never ends. The Court has already accepted one case for next term involving a local government. In District of Columbia v. Wesby, the Supreme Court will decide whether, when the owner of a vacant house informs police he has not authorized entry, an officer assessing probable cause to arrest those inside for trespassing may discredit the suspects’ claims of an innocent mental state.

*Indicates a case where the SLLC has filed or will file an amicus brief.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), which files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations representing state and local governments. She is a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.