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Supreme Court hears redistricting, tax incentive, sovereign immunity cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday heard oral arguments in four consolidated cases challenging the Texas congressional redistricting plan [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs] approved in 2003 which helped Republicans gain six seats in the US Congress. Opponents of the redistricting plan [official website] told the Court that the plan was unconstitutional and accused the Texas legislature of drawing oddly shaped districts solely to protect Republican interests. The Texas solicitor general said that the plan was meant to remedy a map drawn to benefit Democrats and also argued that the plan does not infringe minority voting rights in violation of the Voting Rights Act [DOJ backgrounder]. AP has more.

The Court also heard arguments in DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], where it will decide whether taxpayers can challenge tax incentives given to businesses to encourage economic development. The Court is considering a ruling [PDF text] from the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that Ohio's investment tax credit program is unconstitutional. Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to fall on the side of allowing taxpayers to challenge such tax breaks, but Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that the issue was best left to the political arena and was not for the courts to decide. Justice David Souter seemed skeptical of the argument that the program hinders interstate commerce by discriminating against Ohio companies that do business outside the state. AP has more.

In a third case Wednesday, the Court also considered whether an entity that is not entitled to immunity as "an arm of the state" under the Eleventh Amendment can assert "residual sovereign immunity" based on common law as a defense in an admiralty action. In Northern Insurance Co. of NY v. Chatham Co. [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], an insured's boat was destroyed by a drawbridge operated by Chatham County, Georgia, but when the insurance company sued for negligent maintenance of the bridge, the county government asserted immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled [PDF] that the county was acting as an "arm of the state" and was entitled to sovereign immunity based on common law, but not under the Eleventh Amendment.

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