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Municipalities reap benefits won by powerful court advocate; Legal Center is more than a friend of the court.

The First Amendment case of City of Dallas v. Stanglin, was decided by the Supreme Court in favor of cities, ruling that a Dallas ordinance which licensed a special category of public dance halls restricted to minors from fourteen to eighteen years old did not violate the First Amendment. Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing the opinion for a unanimous Court, adopted almost all of the State and Local Legal Center's argument, including a nearly word for word summary of the Legal Center's analysis in the landmark case of Griswold v. Connecticut.

This is just one of the many laudatory findings about the impact and quality of the work of the State and Local Legal Center in a review conducted by four former Supreme Court clerks. The clerks analyzed a large number of Legal Center amicus briefs and compared them with the other briefs filed in those cases and the opinions ultimately issued by the Court.

In their report, the clerks characterized the Legal Center's briefs as "superior to the overwhelming majority of briefs - whether party briefs or amicus briefs - filed in the Supreme Court." The clerks noted "several instances in which the Center's briefs had a clearly discernible impact on the case, such as where the Court adopted a rule proposed by the Center or even parroted its language and argument."

According to the clerks, "the Center often played a unique and extremely useful role in explaining to the Court the full impact of a decision in the case before it on state and local governments."

Background and Beginnings

The State and Local Legal Center was founded in 1983 by the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governor's Association, the United States Conference of Mayors, the Council of State Governments and the International City Management Association (collectively known as the "Big Seven"). The Center was created because governors, mayors, and other state and local officials thought it essential to advance and defend the interests of state and local governments before the judicial branch, as well as the executive branches of our federal system. The Center's mandate is to help state and local governments establish an effective presence in the United States Supreme Court in order to protect their interests.

Since its beginning, the assistance provided to state and local governments by the State and Local Legal Center has proved most valuable. The Legal Center has become a key resource for state and local governments in Supreme Court litigation and assists state and local governments by filing amicus briefs in approximately 20 cases per year.

An amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief is filed by a person or organization who is not a party in the case, but is extremely interested in its outcome because of the potential effect of the decision. In addition to presenting a thorough legal analysis of the case, an effective amicus brief lets the Court know that others care about the case, how strongly they care, and why they care. These briefs complement those filed by the state or local government that is a party in the case.

The decision to prepare an amicus brief is the responsibility of a Legal Task Force that is made up of representatives of the Big Seven, plus the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) and the National Institute of Municipal Law Officers (NIMLO). The Legal Center staff monitors the Court's docket and reviews all noncriminal cases the Supreme Court has decided to hear in order to identify cases that affect state or local governments.

The Center then prepares a written analysis of the case, which is circulated to the Legal Task Force for review. The Task Force uses written guidelines for case selection. Once the decision is made that the Legal Center should participate in a case, its staff works closely with the attorney representing the state, city or county that is a party to the case.

In addition to filing amicus briefs before the Supreme Court, the State and Local Legal Center assists state and local governments by conducting moot courts in cases in which it has filed amicus briefs. A moot court is a rehearsal of a Supreme Court argument before a panel of attorneys who are familiar with the issues in the case and with the techniques of appellate argument, and who play the role of Supreme Court justices.

The Legal Center's moot court program is designed to help the attorney representing the state or local government prepare the best possible oral argument to present to the Court.

The Legal Center also disseminates information about legal developments in the Supreme Court and responds to telephone inquiries from state, city and county attorneys and officials concerning developments in the Supreme Court that may affect state or local governments.

The State and Local Legal Center is principally supported by direct contributions to its trust fund from state and local governments. Assistance is also provided by six of the Big Seven organizations through fund-raising activities, and by one of the Big Seven, the National Association of Counties, through annual direct payment. Additional financial support is provided annually by NIMLO, which participates in the activities of the Legal Center and signs on to the Legal Center's amicus briefs. The work of the State and Local Legal Center is of great value to all states, cities and counties because it provides a means for state and local governments, acting together, to offer the Supreme Court a wider perspective than a single state, city, or county could provide, to enhance the Court's understanding of their problems, and to assist individual state and local governments with their in-Court advocacy.

The Legal Center relies on the continued support of all those who benefit from its undertakings.

If you would like additional information about the Legal Center, please call Richard Ruda, Chief Counsel, at (202) 434- 4850, or write to the State and Local Legal Center, 444 North Capitol Street, N.W., Suite 345, Washington, DC 20001, Fax (202) 434-4851.
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Author:Tabin, Barrie
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Nov 15, 1993
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