Brief run-down of local government cases before the US Supreme Court this fall

Several cases involving local government law are being heard by the US Supreme Court this fall.  The three that are most significant to BLUZ readers are:

Town of Greece v. Galloway

Argument scheduled for November 6, 2013

The Town of Greece, New York, followed the fairly common policy of allowing a person of any or no denomination to conduct an opening prayer at its Town Board meetings.  The Town did not preview or approve the prayer in advance; however, the Federal 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals declared the Town’s practice a violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution.  The Court’s holding could affect the longstanding prayer practices of many local governments.

Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action v. Township of Mount Holly

Argument scheduled for December 4, 2013

The question presented by this case is whether a policy or action (here, a plan to redevelop a low-income minority neighborhood in New Jersey) that disproportionately impacts a protected class of citizens without intentionally discriminating on the basis of race or other factors can give rise to a Fair Housing Act (FHA) claim.  It has long been understood in at least nine federal circuit courts that such claims will stand.  A ruling to the contrary would significantly restrict the types of claims brought under the FHA.

McCullen v. Coakley

Not currently scheduled for oral arguments

The issue is the constitutionality of Massachusetts’s selective exclusion law, which makes it a crime for speakers other than clinic “employees or agents . . . acting within the scope of their employment” to “enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk” within thirty-five feet of an entrance, exit, or driveway of “a reproductive health care facility” – under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, on its face and as applied to petitioners. If the Court decides the issue on broad constitutional grounds, the constitutionality of similar buffers for clinics, funerals, political gatherings, and other events could be called into question or even overturned.

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