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State Supreme Court Oral Arguments to Watch for in April 

Issues on the dockets include voting rights, abortion rights, and separation of powers.

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In a new feature, State Court Report is previewing upcoming oral arguments in prominent or interesting state court cases.

In April, state supreme courts in Minnesota, Oklahoma, Iowa, Utah, and Wisconsin are set to hear oral arguments on issues including restoration of voting rights following a felony conviction, whether a Catholic school should be approved as a public charter school, an abortion “heartbeat” bill, and power struggles between a governor and legislature.

A Second Chance at Voting Rights Restoration in Minnesota — April 1

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Hunt, Minnesota Supreme Court

A 2023 Minnesota law restored voting rights to approximately 55,000 citizens convicted of felonies who are now on parole, probation, or work release. The state legislature passed the law in response to an earlier 2023 Minnesota Supreme Court decision that said voting rights could be reinstated by a “legislative act” that “restores the right to vote upon the occurrence of certain events,” which in this law is completion of any incarceration.

But conservative group Minnesota Voters Alliance sued, claiming the law violates the Minnesota Constitution, which bars those with a felony conviction from voting “unless restored to civil rights.” While it’s possible the Minnesota high court will focus on standing (the lower court found Minnesota Voters Alliance lacked it), the justices took the case on accelerated appeal, under a rule for litigation of “imperative public importance,” making it more likely they will decide the case on the merits. If the law stands, those 55,000 Minnesotans will be able to vote this November. Watch the arguments here.

Can an Oklahoma Catholic School Be a Public Charter School? — April 2

Drummond v. Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, Oklahoma Supreme Court

The Oklahoma Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether a state board’s approval of the application of a public Catholic charter school violates the Oklahoma Constitution, as well as state law that outlines formation of a charter school. Both say schools must be “nonsectarian.”

The school, St. Isidore Catholic Virtual School, plans to provide a religious education. The state attorney general asked the state high court to take original jurisdiction of the case and argues that the state board should be forced to rescind the approval. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents individuals fighting the school’s approval in a separate case, said that allowing it to move forward would be “a sea change for democracy” by blurring the lines between church and state. Watch the arguments here.

The State of Iowa Wants Hold Lifted on its “Fetal Heartbeat” Law — April 11

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Inc., et al. v. Kim Reynolds, et al., Iowa Supreme Court

The Iowa Supreme Court will decide whether to keep in place a temporary hold on the state’s so-called “fetal heartbeat” law as litigation challenging the legislation moves forward. The 2023 law would ban abortions after ultrasounds can pick up fetal cardiac activity, which is possible around the sixth week of pregnancy, before many people know they are pregnant.

The parties also disagree over which standard should be applied to evaluating the temporary injunction. Abortion advocates argue the undue burden test is the standard and point out that the state supreme court has previously adopted that standard in abortion cases. The state of Iowa says the supreme court should adopt the less stringent rational basis test and endorse the law. Watch the arguments here.

Arguments Over Nevada’s Ballot Initiatives for Redistricting — April 11

Fair Maps Nevada v. Jeng, Nevada Supreme Court

The Nevada Supreme Court will decide if two initiatives that would amend that state constitution to create a seven-member independent redistricting commission charged with drawing the state’s legislative and U.S. Congressional maps should qualify for this fall’s ballot. A trial court found that the initiatives would violate the state constitution by creating a new state body without providing for new revenue. The initiatives’ proponent, Fair Maps Nevada, is arguing on appeal that the commission would not require new expenditures, and instead just shift the money the state already spends on redistricting. The group is also asking the court to revisit its 2022 decision applying the constitution’s bar on “unfunded mandates” to initiatives proposing constitutional amendments.

The court may not reach the merits of the case, as it will also evaluate whether the trial court should have granted Fair Maps Nevada’s motion to dismiss based on the trial court’s failure to set a hearing on the complaint within 15 days, as required by statute. Watch the arguments here.

Injured Patient is Fighting Utah’s Strict Time Limit on Medical Malpractice Claims — April 15

Bingham v. Gourley, Utah Supreme Court

A woman claims medical mistakes during surgery in 2010 caused injuries that eventually required removal of her kidney, but that she was unaware of the mistakes until another doctor discovered them during a 2017 surgery. Utah’s malpractice law contains a four-year “statute of repose” that says a claim cannot be brought more than four years after the injury, no matter when its discovered.

The woman is asking the Utah Supreme Court to rule that the four-year limit is unconstitutional because it deprives her of her right to recover for injuries and violates provisions guaranteeing access to courts to seek remedies. She also claims it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because it discriminates against those who suffered undetectable injuries after the statute of repose has expired. Listen to the arguments here.

Wisconsin High Court Takes Up Power Struggle Between Governor and Legislature — April 17

Evers v. Marklein, Wisconsin Supreme Court

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will decide whether the state constitution allows for legislative committee vetoes of certain executive branch actions. The challenge addresses vetoes by the Republican-controlled legislature’s budget committee over state conservation programs supported by the state’s Democratic governor. When announcing the lawsuit, Gov. Tony Evers said the use of committee vetoes is “obstructing basic government functions.” The case poses significant separation of powers questions under the state constitution.

The dispute is the latest in the partisan power struggle between the governor and legislature that is playing out against the backdrop of a new progressive majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The case highlights courts’ influence in states with party splits between the legislature and governor. Listen to the arguments here.

Does “Certificate of Need” Requirement Violate Doctor’s Right to Practice His Occupation? — April 17

Singleton v. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, North Carolina Supreme Court

The North Carolina Supreme Court will hear a doctor’s challenge to a law that requires healthcare providers to obtain a “certificate of need” — regulatory approval the state says is needed to combat oversupply of services that can raise consumer costs — before offering new services or facilities in a geographic area. The doctor claims that the law violates the North Carolina Constitution in multiple ways, including by depriving him of the right to practice his occupation. The trial court dismissed the case, and the appeals court upheld the dismissal.

These types of law exist in a majority of states, though critics, including the Institute of Justice, argue they are about protecting pre-existing providers, not consumers. In recent years, North Carolina legislators have attempted to repeal the statute, but those efforts have not garnered enough support to pass both chambers. Watch the arguments here.

Erin Geiger Smith is a writer and editor at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Sarah Kessler is an attorney and a contributing writer to State Court Report.





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