Arguments for the current Supreme Court term have concluded and major decisions are now due. Here is an update on 12 significant decisions that will be handed down from the Court into late June.
Janus v. American Federation (decided 6/27/2018)
In Janus v. American Federation, the Court will again tackle the issue of compelled financial support for public unions, and if public employees can be forced to pay dues to unions they don’t belong to as an effort to offset contract-negotiation costs. In 1977, the Court said unions could charge such fees, but recent doubts have emerged from some Justices that the practice can continue.
A divided Supreme Court said that public-sector employees who don’t belong to unions can’t be forced to pay union contract-negotiating fees. Justice Samuel Alito said that “states and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees. The First Amendment is violated when money is taken from nonconsenting employees for a public-sector union; employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them."
Link to full decision: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-1466_2b3j.pdf
In these cases, the Court was considering two questions about the process of gerrymandering, or drawing political districts to benefit candidates from a political party. In Gill v. Whitford, Wisconsin appealed a ruling that struck down a redistricting map created after the 2010 census that favored Republicans, while in Benisek v. Lamone, Republicans leaders in Maryland want the Court to establish a First Amendment test for gerrymandering after the Democrats redrew a solidly GOP House district in 2011.
In the Gill decision, Chief Justice John Roberts for a unanimous Court sent the case back to a special three-judge trial court due to a lack of standing by the planitiffs to sue.
Link to full decision: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-1161_dc8f.pdf
In the Benisek case, the Court's per-curium opinion let a lower-court ruling stand that allows elections to proceed under the state's current election map.
Link to full decision: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/17-333_b97c.pdf
Carpenter v. United States (decided 6/22/2018)
In Carpenter v. United States, the Court was considering if the warrantless seizure and search of historical cell-phone records, which shows the location and movements of a cell-phone user over a period of more than four months, is permitted under the Fourth Amendment.
A divided Court ruled that in general, law enforcement officers must get a court-approved warrant before they may gather data from cellphone towers showing where an individual was using a phone. Chief Justice John Roberts, in the majority opinion, add that
The Chief Justice, in insisting that the decision was “narrow,” suggested that warrant requirements might not apply in times of actual emergency, such as a national security or foreign affairs crisis, and did not disturb the regular use by police of at least some electronic surveillance devices, such as security cameras.
Link to full decision: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-402_h315.pdf
Murphy v. NCAA (decided 5/14/2018)
The Justices were considering if the federal law that regulates sports betting in New Jersey violated the 10th Amendment’s anti-commandeering provisions. A federal appeals court in 2013 said New Jersey couldn’t legalize sports betting because it missed a filing deadline required in the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (or PASPA).
In a 7-2 majority decision, Justice Samuel Alito struck down the law as the Court’s majority took a strong stance on the 10th Amendment and states’ powers. Alito made it clear the law’s effect regulated the activities of state lawmakers, but he also said Congress could regulate sports gambling under certain circumstances but by not using PASPA.
Link to full decision: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-476_dbfi.pdf
Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (decided 6/4/2018)
In Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Justices tried to decide if Colorado's public accommodations law violated the First Amendment religious rights of a cake maker who declined to make a cake for a same-sex marriage event. Instead, the ruling focused on the conduct of the Colorado Rights Commission in its initial decision in the case.
In the 7-2 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the commission incorrectly acted in its considerations that Masterpiece Cakeshop violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (or CADA).
Kennedy said the baker, Jack Phillips, was “entitled to a neutral and respectful consideration of his claims in all the circumstances of the case,” but the statements of some commission officials cast doubts on the neutrality of their decision.
“That consideration was compromised, however, by the Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case, which showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection,” Kennedy said. For those and other reasons, Kennedy said, “the Commission’s treatment of Phillips’ case violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.”
Link to full decision: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-111_j4el.pdf
Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute (decided 6/11/2018)
The Justices were looking at an apparent conflict between federal voting statutes and state-based programs to maintain voter registration lists. Ohio's program removes voters from its list of registered voters if they don't respond to a notification after four years and vote again. Critics said federal law prevents states from removing people from voter registration rolls for not voting.
In the majority decision, Justice Samuel Alito said that Ohio’s process to remove voters using change-of-residence grounds didn’t violate the National Voter Registration Act (or NVRA). “Ohio’s process cannot be unreasonable because it uses the change-of-residence evidence that Congress said it could,” Alto concluded. “Ohio’s process is accordingly lawful.”
Link to full decision: www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-980_f2q3.pdf
Collins v. Virginia (decided 5/29/2018)
The issue at stake was about the Fourth Amendment’s “automobile exception” that states if “a car is readily mobile and probable cause exists to believe it contains contraband, the Fourth Amendment . . . permits police to search the vehicle” without a warrant. In this case, police saw a Facebook picture of what they believed was a stolen motorcycle, and then entered private property near a house, called its curtilage, to examine a motorcycle under a tarp, without a warrant.
In an 8-1 decision, the Court said police in Virginia couldn’t use the Facebook photo as cause to examine a motorcycle under a tarp. “Contrary to Virginia’s claim, the automobile exception is not a categorical one that permits the warrantless search of a vehicle anytime, anywhere, including in a home or curtilage,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the majority opinion. “This Court has long been clear that curtilage is afforded constitutional protection, and creating a carveout for certain types of curtilage seems more likely to create confusion than does uniform application of the Court’s doctrine,” she said.
Link to full decision: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-1027_7lio.pdf
United States v. Microsoft (dismissed 4/17/2018)
The case had the potential to be one of the most-significant decisions of the Supreme Court’s current term. The digital privacy fight involved Microsoft’s ability to exclude emails hosted on overseas servers from government subpoenas. But on March 23, Congress passed an act requires a U.S.-based company to turn over the stored electronic data, but it also provided ways for companies to challenge such orders under certain circumstances. In a per-curium opinion, the Court said on April 17 that, “no live dispute remains between the parties over the issue with respect to which certiorari was granted,” and it instructed the District Court where the case originated to consider it moot.
National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra (decided 6/26/2018)
This case is about is a California state law that orders pro-life “crisis pregnancy centers” to provide patients with information that may include the availability of low-cost or free abortions. The question before the Court is “whether the Free Speech Clause or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment prohibits California from compelling licensed pro-life centers to post information on how to obtain a state-funded abortion.”
A divided Court ruled that the California state law violated the First Amendment.
Link to full decision: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-1140_5368.pdf
South Dakota v. Wayfair (decided 6/21/2018)
The Justices considered if taxes must be paid on Internet product sales. Not all states require consumers to pay taxes on Internet sales. Big online retailers, like Amazon, do charge sales taxes, even though they don’t own a physical building in some states. State and local governments claim they are losing $13 billion annually in sales tax revenues from Internet businesses. Those Internet businesses believe a 1992 Supreme Court decision, Quill Corp. v. Heitkamp, supports an argument that states can’t force sales or use taxes on businesses that lack a physical presence in a state, and Congress is the best place to decide such taxing disputes.
In a 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy overturned the Quill decision as inadequate for today's Internet economy. Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent believed Congress should decide the issue.
Link to full decision: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/17-494_j4el.pdf
Trump v. Hawaii (decided 6/26/2018)
The Supreme Court considered the state of Hawaii’s claim that President Donald Trump imposed an unconstitutional “Muslim ban” when he ordered strict new limits on entry into the U.S. by foreign nationals from six nations with Muslim-majority populations and if the Trump order issued in September was illegal under federal immigration laws or federal procedural rules.
In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts upheld Trump's order barring most foreign travelers from five Mideast nations with mostly Muslim populations. “The admission and exclusion of foreign nationals is a fundamental sovereign attribute exercised by the government’s political departments largely immune from judicial control,” Roberts said. The decision also rejected a claim that the presidential order was a “Muslim ban” that unconstitutionally discriminated on the basis of religion.
Link to full decision: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/17-965_h315.pdf