Archives

Uncategorized

Much of the coverage of today’s Supreme Court decisions will focus on the affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas, but as Ian Millhiser points out in this post, two 5-4 decisions in the workers’ rights area will actually have more of an impact on most Americans and should not be overlooked.

In Vance v. Ball State, the Court limited the definition of “supervisor”  to those who have the power to make a “significant change in [your] employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.”

As Millhiser notes:

The problem with this definition of the word “supervisor” is that it cuts out many individuals who exercise significant power to direct fellow employees — potentially including the power to intimidate those employees against reporting their actions to their employer — just so long as those individuals don’t actually have the power to fire or demote anyone. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion lists several examples of now-no-longer-supervisors under Vance. One of them is a senior truck driver who coerced a female subordinate into unwanted sex with him. At oral argument, Justice Elena Kagan gave the example of a secretary whose boss “subjects that secretary to living hell, complete hostile work environment on the basis of sex.” Under today’s decision, the secretary’s boss is not her “supervisor” if the power to fire her rests with the “Head of Secretarial Services.” Don Draper can proposition his secretary with near impunity, so long as Joan Harris is the only one empowered to fire her.

In the second case, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the Court rejected “mixed motive” retaliation claims in which race or other improper reason was one of several motives for retaliation.

As Millhiser explains:

Mixed motive suits are important because they force an employer to reveal what they were actually thinking at the time that they fired or demoted an employee. Without this framework, employees are faced with the nearly-impossible task of proving that the sole thing on their boss’ mind was discrimination at the time that they decided to take action against a worker.

 

Uncategorized

The Supreme Court punted today in the affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, sending the case back to the Fifth Circuit — and possibly even the district court — for a reconsideration of the university’s affirmative action policy under a strict scrutiny standard.

In the 7-1 decision by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court said that “because the Fifth Circuit did not hold the University to the demanding burden of strict scrutiny articulated in Grutter and Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, its decision affirming the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the University was incorrect.”

“[S]trict scrutiny does require a court to examine with care, and not defer to, a university’s ‘serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives,’” Kennedy added.

Earlier in the term, the Court had already signaled that it would be revisiting its landmark 2003 decision validating affirmative action in Grutter v. Bollinger by agreeing to hear a new challenge, Schuette v. Coalition Against Affirmative Action, next term.

That means that the Court may render a decision on the merits of affirmative action policies next term even before the Fisher case makes its way again through the lower courts.

The composition of the Court has changed since Grutter, with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote that opinion, retiring and the more conservative Justice Samuel Alito taking her place.

Uncategorized

Here’s quick run down of today’s action in the U.S. Supreme Court, courtesy of AP, plus links to the decisions and orders:

— Struck down, by a 7-2 vote, Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship law that asks would-be voters for additional documentation before allowing them to register using a federal form designed to make signing up easier. (Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council)

— Ruled 5-3 that agreements between the makers of name-brand and generic drugs to delay the generics’ availability can be illegal, an outcome cheered by consumer groups. (FTC v. Actavis)

— Held 5-4 that prosecutors in some instances may use a suspect’s silence at an early stage of a criminal investigation against him — before the suspect has been arrested or informed of his constitutional rights. (Salinas v. Texas)

— Decided 5-4 that judges may not increase mandatory minimum prison terms when sentencing defendants unless the facts justifying the increase have been found by a jury. (Alleyne v. U.S.)

— Barred lawyers, in another 5-4 ruling, from obtaining state driver license records to recruit clients, saying the practice is prohibited by a federal law aimed at shielding motor vehicle information. (Maracich v. Spears)

— Agreed to decide in its next term a new dispute involving race, whether federal housing law requires proof of intentional discrimination. (Mt. Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens)

— Said it would review a state court ruling upholding a $1.24 million defamation judgment against a Wisconsin airline that reported one of its pilots was potentially dangerous, despite a post-9/11 law that encourages airlines to report potential safety threats to federal officials. (Air Wisconsin v. Hoeper)

The court will next hand down decisions in some of the 14 merits cases still awaiting decision this term — including highly anticipated and perhaps historical cases involving affirmative action, marriage equality and voting rights — on Thursday, June 20.

Uncategorized

The Supreme Court agreed today to decide whether, under the Fair Housing Act, proof that a residential property practice had a disparate impact on a particular group suffices for a claim of discrimination, or whether challengers must prove instead intent to discriminate.

In the case, Township of Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action — which will be argued in the fall — African-American and Hispanic residents of a neighborhood pegged for demolition and redevelopment in Mount Holly, N.J., sued to block the project, saying it targeted a predominantly minority area.

As noted here , the housing act does not explicitly cover disparate impact claims, unlike other anti-discrimination laws.  The outcome could affect other laws as well, including one that prohibits discrimination in lending and is enforced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

 

 

Uncategorized

In a 7-2 decision by Justice Antonin Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court held today in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council that the National Voter Registration Act preempts an Arizona law that required local election officials to refuse to register any would-be voter who did not present satisfactory evidence of U.S. Citizenship.

In separate opinions, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

The Constitution gives the states the authority to decide “the time, place and manner” of holding elections for federal officials, but also gives Congress back-up authority to “make or alter such regulations.” The Constitution also provides that when federal and state law clash, federal law will prevail.

The NVRA was passed in an effort to increase the number of eligible voters in federal elections, and to ensure that voter registration rolls are accurate and current.  It spells out three methods for registering voters for federal elections.  Voters may sign up to vote when they apply for a driver’s license, apply by mail using a federal form, or register – using the federal form – at sites designated under state law or by state voter registration officials.  States must create a combined driver’s license (or non-driver ID) and voter registration form, and the law requires federal officials to draw up a federal form — a nationally uniform voter registration application to be used in getting registered by mail or at a registration office. On the federal form, the would-be voter must declare that he or she meets voter eligibility requirements, including U.S. citizenship.

Under Arizona law, the requirement of proof of  citizenship was a separate mandate, not fulfilled by having the federal form.