Supreme Court rules that employers can prevent employees from banding together in class-action lawsuits
The Supreme Court voted 5-4 along ideological lines on Monday to rule that federal arbitration law allows employers to prevent their employees from banding together in class-action lawsuits and require them to go through individual arbitrators for disputes. The ruling, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing the majority, is a "big win for businesses" and "a major blow to workers," New York's Cristian Farias tweeted.
While supporters of arbitration argue it is cheaper, "critics say companies are trying to strip individuals of important rights, including the ability to band together on claims that as a practical matter are too small to press individually," Bloomberg writes, adding that "about 25 million employees have signed arbitration accords that bar group claims."
Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the 30-page dissent, which is five pages longer than the majority decision, SCOTUSblog reports. She called the ruling "egregiously wrong" and said the Federal Arbitration Act "demands no such suppression for the right of workers to take concerted action for their 'mutual aid or protection.'"
Gorsuch said that the "policy may be debatable but the law is clear: Congress has instructed that arbitration agreements like those before us must be enforced as written." Read more about the decision on Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis at SCOTUSblog. Jeva Lange
Based on questions raised by Supreme Court justices on Wednesday during the oral arguments in Trump v. Hawaii, which concerns President Trump's ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim countries, there does not appear to be an obvious five-judge majority to strike down the ban, The Washington Post reports. Lower courts have struck down three iterations of the ban to date, claiming it improperly overrides congressional lawmaking power, engages in "nationality discrimination," and does not demonstrate that "nationality alone renders entry of this broad class of individuals a heightened security risk or that current screening processes are inadequate."
As it stands now, the ban bars travelers from seven countries, although only the Muslim-majority ones are a part of the challenge: Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, and Somalia (Chad was originally included in the ban but was removed from the list earlier this month). Travelers from North Korea and Venezuela are also barred under the ban. Trump had specifically called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" when he introduced the idea in late 2015.
Conservative justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch pressed acting solicitor general Neal K. Katyal, who is representing Hawaii, on how exactly Trump has overstepped his legal grounds with the ban. Alito in particular noted that only 8 percent of the world's Muslim population would be affected by the ban, saying "a reasonable observer would not think this was a Muslim ban," The Washington Post reports. Read more about where the SCOTUS justices appear to stand on the debate here. Jeva Lange
Conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was controversially appointed by President Trump last year, sided with his liberal colleagues on the bench Tuesday in a ruling that curbs how a federal law can be used to deport immigrants, The Associated Press reports. In the 5-4 decision, the justices determined that the law concerning the deportation of immigrants for certain crimes is unconstitutionally loose and vague, writes The Wall Street Journal. The decision is considered a blow to Trump, who has taken a hardline on immigration.
The case, Sessions v. Dimaya, concerned a Filipino immigrant with permanent U.S. residency status who was convicted of burglary in California. Congress had ordered the deportation of immigrants that committed felony crimes with "a substantial risk that physical force … may be used," which the defendant argued was unspecific and the Supreme Court agreed was too unclear.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote the majority's ruling, while in his own opinion Gorsuch agreed that the law left people "in the dark" and allowed "prosecutors and courts to make it up." He added: "No one should be surprised that the Constitution looks unkindly on any law so vague that reasonable people cannot understand its terms and judges do not know where to begin in applying it." Jeva Lange
The Supreme Court on Tuesday hears oral arguments in a case that could determine whether businesses can withhold services from gay couples, citing religious beliefs. The controversial case concerns Colorado baker Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakes, who declined to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Phillips' lawyers say he "gladly serves people from all walks of life, including individuals of all races, faiths, and sexual orientations. But he cannot design custom cakes that express ideas or celebrate events at odds with his religious beliefs." The couple, David Mullins and Charlie Craig, said Phillips violated a state law guaranteeing them "the same full and equal service" other customers get, and lower courts have sided with them. Harold Maass
The Supreme Court's nine-month term ended Monday, marking a historic period of time for the judicial branch as the justices set a modern record for reaching consensus. Because the court operated with just eight justices for the majority of its term, the breakdown "probably required having a lot more discussion of some things and more compromise and maybe narrower opinions than we would have issued otherwise," said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.
The term had the highest share of unanimous cases ever after 2013, but it also had the highest share of votes in the majority opinion in at least 70 years, The New York Times reports. Additionally, the share of cases decided by a margin of 5-3 or 5-4 was well below the court's average.
"It has been a quiet term, and that is a good thing for the country," said University of Chicago law professor William Baude. "Overall, this year the court was the least dramatic, and most functional, branch of government."
That could soon change. Notably, the 2016-2017 term did not have the same high-profile cases of terms past, like recent gay rights, health care, and abortion rulings. "We got used to the idea that every year the court decides several of the biggest national political issues — six or seven consecutive 'terms of the century' — but this year saw a regression to the mean," said Cato Institute lawyer Ilya Shapiro.
That won't last, though. The court has agreed to hear cases on "a clash between gay rights and claims of religious freedom, constitutional limits on partisan gerrymandering, cell phone privacy, human rights violations by corporations, and the ability of employees to band together to address workplace issues," The New York Times writes.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a major First Amendment debate between religious freedom advocates and anti-discrimination groups, The Associated Press reports. The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, will test if a bakery had a constitutional right to break Colorado's anti-discrimination law when it refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The cake shop owner believed "he would displease God by creating cakes for same-sex marriages."
The bakery's owner, Jack Phillips, claims that forcing Masterpiece Cakeshop to make cakes for same-sex weddings is the equivalent of "compelled speech," which is banned under the First Amendment. The Colorado Civil Rights Division and Administrative Judge Robert Spencer of the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts disagreed, ruling that the bakery illegally discriminated against David Mullins and Charlie Craig in 2012, when they sought, and were refused, a cake for their wedding.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ultimately "ordered Masterpiece Cakeshop to change its company policies, provide 'comprehensive staff training' regarding public accommodations discrimination, and provide quarterly reports for the next two years regarding steps it has taken to come into compliance and whether it has turned away any prospective customers," the ACLU reports. The cake shop then appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, and when it was refused, turned to the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court ruling on 'disparagement clause' means Washington Redskins are likely to keep their name
In a unanimous ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court decided that the government cannot refuse to register trademarks that disparage "individuals, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols," Politico reports. The case centered on an Asian-American rock band that calls itself "The Slants"; the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had refused to register the name, citing a 71-year-old federal "disparagement clause" that was ultimately found to be in violation of the First Amendment.
"The commercial market is well stocked with merchandise that disparages prominent figures and groups, and the line between commercial and non-commercial speech is not always clear, as this case illustrates," wrote Justice Samuel Alito. "If affixing the commercial label permits the suppression of any speech that may lead to political or social 'volatility,' free speech would be endangered,” he wrote.
In addition to having potentially amusing consequences, the ruling could also "doom legal challenges to other trademarks many consider offensive, such as that for the Washington Redskins football team," Politico adds. The Redskins trademark was canceled in 2014 on grounds that it too is disparaging, in that case of Native Americans. Read more about The Slants' case and what the ruling could mean for the Redskins' trademark at The Week. Jeva Lange
The Supreme Court confirmed Monday that it will debate the constitutionality of drawing election maps in favor of one party over another, CNN reports.
While the Supreme Court has previously ruled on maps that were drawn to suppress the voices of racial minorities, the court has never decided if partisan gerrymandering is likewise unconstitutional. For decades, Republicans and Democrats alike have redrawn oddly-shaped districts in order to benefit their respective parties, although Republicans currently hold the advantage due to their majority control during the redrawing of districts following the 2010 census.
In the extreme Wisconsin case being heard by the Supreme Court, three federal judges said the state's Republican Party violated the Constitution's First Amendment and equal rights protections by drawing severely partisan district lines and stifling Democratic votes.
The Supreme Court's conclusions could signal a "potentially fundamental change in the way American elections are conducted," The Washington Post reports. "If the court is not willing to draw a line here, it would suggest the court is unlikely ever to feel comfortable setting a limit," Richard Pildes, an expert in election law at New York University, told The Associated Press.
The court will hear the case in its autumn term, which begins in October. Jeva Lange