Municipalities Reap Benefits Won by Powerful Court Advocate; Legal Center Is More Than a Friend of the Court

By Tabin, Barrie | Nation's Cities Weekly, November 15, 1993 | Go to article overview

Municipalities Reap Benefits Won by Powerful Court Advocate; Legal Center Is More Than a Friend of the Court


Tabin, Barrie, Nation's Cities Weekly


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. …

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