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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.”


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