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Center for Law and the Public’s Health


Peconic Baykeeper v. Suffolk County
Peconic Baykeeper, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting estuaries on Long Island, brought suit against Suffolk County in order to halt their mosquito control program. The program had been expanded following the emergence of West Nile virus in New York. Peconic Baykeeper charged that the Legislature had failed to carry out an environmental impact study prior to its control program. The Court agreed that Suffolk County Public Works did not fully comply with the environmental impact assessment under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

  DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Services
What is the extent of the government’s responsibility to safeguard its citizens from harm? Petitioner Joshua DeShaney lived with his abusive father for several years. Although the respondent received several complaints alleging child abuse, the department intervened little. When Joshua was four, his father beat him until he lapsed into a coma. Joshua and his mother sued the agency on the grounds that it had denied him of his liberty without due process.

  Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine
In 1995, Jeanne Sprietsma fell out of her sport boat and was fatally wounded by the boat’s propellor. Her husband brought a common law tort suit against the manufacturer of the boat’s outboard motor, claiming that their failure to provide a propellor guard rendered the motor unreasonably dangerous. In defense, the manufacturer claimed the action was preempted by the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971 and by the Coast Guard’s 1990 decision not to regulate propellor guards. In deciding the matter, the Supreme Court cites injury control research conducted by faculty at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

  Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Reilly.
With the hope of reducing tobacco use by minors, Massachusetts Attorney General Reilly promulgated a series of comprehensive tobacco control regulations. The regulations included a ban on tobacco advertising near schools or playgrounds in addition to point-of-sale advertising restrictions. Several tobacco companies challenged the regulations, claiming that they violated First Amendment protections and that they were preempted by the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act. Part II of Justice O’Connor’s opinion addresses the preemption claim.

  Geier v. American Honda Motor Co.
Pursuant to a federal statute, the government issued a standard requiring that air bags and other passive restraints be included in automobiles. Petitioner Geier was injured in car that was not equipped with a driver’s side airbag. She sued Honda in the District of Columbia for negligently failing to equip her car with an airbag. Does the language of the federal statute bar her tort claim in state court?

  South Dakota v. Dole.
In 1984, Congress required that states raise the legal drinking age to 21; states that failed to comply would not receive certain federal highway funds. South Dakota, whose drinking age was 19, challenged Congress’s power to do so. The Constitution grants Congress the power to tax and spend, but did it exceed the limits of this power by imposing such conditions on the receipt of federal funds?

  United States v. Morrison
Finding that violence against women had serious implications for the nation’s economy, Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act, which permitted victims of gender-motivated crimes to sue their attackers for civil damages in federal courts. In 1995, a freshman at Virginia Polytechnic Institute brought such a suit against two football players who allegedly raped her. Respondents challenged the Act’s civil suit provision, arguing that Congress exceeded its Commerce Clause powers. Citing Lopez, the Court determines whether gender-motivated violence constitutes economic activity.

  United States v. Lopez
In 1990, Congress passed the Gun-Free School Zones Act, which prohibited the possession of firearms in school zones. The federal government claimed that banning guns in schools affects interstate commerce, and thus falls within Congress’s scope of power. But does the legislation really involve interstate commerce?

  Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Petitioners purchased undeveloped land to build a landfill. The Army Corps of Engineers refused to grant a permit, claiming that their power to do so is granted by the Clean Water Act and its own regulations that protect migratory birds. Did Congress intend the Clean Water Act to govern this situation?

  New York v. United States
To encourage states to confront the shortage of low-level radioactive waste disposal sites, Congress passed a law offering various incentives to states who comply with the statute. New York challenged the law, claiming that the Congress was commandeering powers reserved for the states. To what extent can Congress put pressure on states to comply with its policy objectives?


Printz v. United States
Under the interim provisions of the "Brady bill" firearms control act, state and local law enforcement agencies are required to perform background checks on potential gun purchasers in certain circumstances. The petitioner objected, claiming that the Constitution forbids Congress from requiring state officials to carrying out federal laws. Does this provision of the law intrude on state sovereignty?



  University of Alabama v. Garrett
Upon returning to work after undergoing treatment for breast cancer, Patricia Garrett was told that she would have to give up her position as nursing director at a state university hospital. She sued her employer for damages under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The University, in turn, argued that the doctrine of sovereign immunity barred Congress from authorizing such a suit by a private individual against a state entity. In his opinion, Chief Justice Rehnquist discusses the nature of state discrimination against the disabled and the "constitutional shortcomings" of the ADA.


Westside Mothers v. Haveman
Westside Mothers and other advocacy groups sued the state of Michigan for failing to provide certain medical services mandated by the federal Medicaid program. In determining whether sovereign immunity protects Michigan against this cause of action, the Sixth Circuit discusses the nature of the legal relationship between the states and the federal government created by Medicaid.



Strawser v. Atkins
In 1998, many states settled their suits against the tobacco industry (the ‘Master Settlement’) and received large amounts of money. The money received by the states invoked several issues relating to Medicaid, and Congress drafted legislation in response. In 2000, Medicaid patients in West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina sued their states, claiming entitlement to certain portions of the Master Settlement funds. The Fourth Circuit looks to the doctrine of sovereign immunity in deciding the validity of these claims.






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