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Professor to argue before Supreme Court on states' rights

Monday, January 12, 2015

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas law professor will make his second appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court this term, arguing on behalf of Kansas and more than 20 other states in a case focused on natural gas, alleged price fixing and authority between state and federal governments.

Stephen McAllister, E.S. & Tom W. Hampton Distinguished Professor of Law, will argue on behalf of the plaintiffs in ONEOK Inc. v. Learjet Inc. at 9 a.m. CST today, Jan. 12, at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. He also argued before the court in October on behalf of Kansas in a case regarding water rights between the state and Nebraska. A ruling in that case is expected soon.

At issue in today's case is natural gas and setting prices for the commodity. The federal government controls the wholesale part of the market, while states can regulate commercial sales, McAllister said. The states are arguing their consumer protection laws prevent federal laws on the transportation and sale of natural gas from setting prices artificially high, or “price fixing.”

“It is an interesting collection of entities represented in the suit,” McAllister said. “There are hospitals, school districts and other private entities such as Learjet. They all have a common interest here and were required to pay way more than they should have for natural gas.”

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt asked McAllister, who is also solicitor general for Kansas, to write the amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs. McAllister, who regularly offers legal assistance to the state, will make his seventh total appearance before the Supreme Court. He will dispute the defendants’ and federal government’s position that state antitrust laws are pre-empted by the federal Natural Gas Act. The defendants argue the pre-emption extends to the retail market.

Kansas-based entities Learjet Inc. and Topeka Unified School District No. 501 are among the plaintiffs who claim the defendants illegally drove up the price of natural gas. Similar cases from across the country were consolidated into a multidistrict case in Nevada, and the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the plaintiffs to proceed with their claims.

McAllister said he was drawn to the case not only for the chance to serve the state and to appear before the highest court in the land but also for the chance to relate the experience to his students. He teaches classes and conducts research in federal and state constitutional law, civil rights actions and tort law.

“It’s a thrill for me both personally and professionally,” he said. “I think it speaks well for Kansas and the voice of Kansas when cases such as this show up at the Supreme Court. Plus, it always gives me something I can bring back to the students and my scholarship.”

Law professor to argue before Supreme Court on water dispute

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas law professor has authored a study and will argue before the Supreme Court on a water rights case via a method that can be thought of as a more civil version of civil war.

Stephen McAllister, E.S. & Tom W. Hampton Distinguished Professor of Law, will argue on behalf of Kansas before the Supreme Court on Oct. 14 in a dispute about water rights and the Republican River. Lower courts have determined that Nebraska has pumped too much water from the river before it flows into Kansas and that Nebraska should pay Kansas $5.5 million. Nebraska claims that amount is too steep, while Kansas claims the payment should be higher. McAllister is arguing at the request of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who will join McAllister at counsel table for the oral argument.

McAllister also has written a new article to be published this fall in the law journal The Green Bag about original jurisdiction procedures, the process by which disputes between states often are initiated and decided in the Supreme Court.

“One of the ways to think of original jurisdiction is as ‘the other civil war,’” McAllister said. “Instead of states taking action against each other, militarily or otherwise, they can go to the Supreme Court and get a resolution of their dispute. Original jurisdiction gives the Supreme Court the chance to keep such disputes from ever reaching the point of violence or other punitive actions between states.”

Original jurisdiction was used only sparingly before the Civil War, but since then it has been used frequently to determine all manner of disputes between states over water rights, fishing rights, boundaries and occasionally other issues such as interstate pollution. One of the most famous recent cases was a dispute between New York and New Jersey over which state owned Ellis Island, home to the historic center that processed millions of immigrants to the United States.

This isn’t the first time McAllister has been involved in a water rights case that ended up at the Supreme Court via original jurisdiction. Kansas v. Colorado was a dispute over water rights to the Arkansas River. In that case, Kansas sued Colorado for taking more than Colorado’s share of the water in the river before it reached Kansas. McAllister worked on the case near its conclusion, assisting then-Kansas Attorney General Steve Six, writing briefs and providing consultation. McAllister’s work on that case and the Supreme Court’s decision prompted him to write another article in The Green Bag, agreeing with Chief Justice John Roberts that the Supreme Court alone had the constitutional power to determine the procedures for original jurisdiction cases and that Congress could not and should not get involved in such matters.

Some have argued that Congress has the power to dictate the procedures the Supreme Court uses in these state versus state cases, but McAllister in responding has noted that Congress has never purported to do so directly in the nation’s history.

“History suggests that Congress has never really thought they could or needed to get involved in these cases,” McAllister said. “I don’t see how Congress getting involved could make things any better. The court has developed procedures and provided a forum that has worked for the states.”

While some claim that the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution, which gives Congress the authority to set certain parameters on the court, gives Congress the power to determine original jurisdiction procedures, McAllister disagrees.

“The logical extension of that argument is that Congress could completely control every aspect of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction, which would do away with separation of powers. The Supreme Court does not try to control or change the procedures Congress uses.”

In his upcoming arguments before the Supreme Court, McAllister will argue because it has been established that Nebraska pumped too much water from the Republican River and violated a previous compact between the states on water usage, Nebraska should have to pay Kansas significant damages, both to compensate for the loss to Kansas and to deter Nebraska from committing future violations.

“The upstream states always have an advantage, as far as first shot at the water and the ability to use what they want,” McAllister said. “You often end up with disputes arising from interstate water compacts arising decades down the road. I think one of the questions is, ‘How much remedy is appropriate in this situation? It’s an interesting question to argue because there aren’t really hard and fast rules here.”

The case will be both a chance for a KU professor to argue before the Supreme Court and for KU Law students to observe the preparation process firsthand. McAllister will take part in several moot court sessions before the October arguments in order to practice and prepare. In one of those sessions, KU faculty will represent the Supreme Court justices who will hear the case. Students will observe and be able to ask questions following the session.

This particular case will also be part of McAllister’s distinguished professor lecture, which he will present Oct. 6. His Supreme Court experiences, consulting with the Kansas Attorney General’s office and the intersection of the two with service, teaching and scholarship will all be part of the presentation.

Media advisory: KU law expert can discuss Supreme Court's ruling in Hobby Lobby case

Monday, June 30, 2014

LAWRENCE — Rick Levy, the J.B. Smith Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Kansas School of Law, is available to discuss the upcoming Supreme Court ruling in Sebelius v Hobby Lobby Stores. The case addresses the question of whether Hobby Lobby Stores can be required to provide contraception to employees as part of the Affordable Care Act.

LEVY CAN DISCUSS: The court’s ruling, the decision’s constitutional implications and what it means for the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

To schedule an interview, contact Mindie Paget at mpaget@ku.edu or (785) 864-9205.

BIOGRAPHY: Richard Levy speaks frequently with the media on constitutional topics and cases, such as school finance litigation, abortion rights and other controversial decisions. He joined the KU Law faculty in 1985, having received his law degree with honors from the University of Chicago Law School. Before joining the faculty, he served as a clerk for Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. In teaching and research, he has focused on constitutional law, administrative law and government institutions. Levy is a prolific scholar who was named a Postlethwaite Research Fellow, 1996-1999, and was named the inaugural J.B. Smith Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law in 2007.

Who Owns Your Genes?

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case today that could decide whether human genes can be patented.  But the case is about more than just genetics.  It’s about how medical research gets funded, who profits from it, and who has access to its benefits.  Health Reporter Bryan Thompson sat down with University of Kansas Law Professor Andrew Torrance, who specializes in biotechnology patent law, for some clarification.

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