Supreme Court

3 Supreme Court Cases to Watch This Month

Here are the SCOTUS cases to watch in February.

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Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

February is shaping up to be quite a month at the U.S. Supreme Court. In the coming weeks, the justices will hear oral arguments in cases that tackle such contentious issues as the constitutionality of compulsory public-sector union fees, whether the First Amendment protects the wearing of certain political attire at the ballot box, and whether Microsoft must comply with federal warrants issued for email accounts whose data is stored overseas. Here are three Supreme Court cases to watch this month.

1. Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31

In the 1977 case of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court said that state governments may compel government workers to pay union fees as a condition of employment, even when those workers are not union members. The Court did so on the grounds that nonmember "free riders" should not be allowed to benefit from a public-sector union's collective bargaining activities. Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that asks whether Abood should be overruled.

The case is Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. Mark Janus, an Illinois public-sector employee, objects to being forced to pay fees to a union that he has refused to join, arguing that such compulsion violates his First Amendment rights by making him subsidize the union's political speech and activities. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, by contrast, argues that the Abood precedent "is sound and underlies important and longstanding tenets of this Court's First Amendment jurisprudence," such as the idea "that certain labor-relations interests justify the small intrusion on employees' First Amendment interests that fair-share payments represent."

Oral arguments in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 are scheduled for February 26.

2. United States v. Microsoft Corporation

The Stored Communications Act (SCA) of 1986 contains several provisions designed to safeguard private communications that are held "in electronic storage." Among them is a requirement that law enforcement officials may only obtain the contents of such communications "pursuant to a warrant."

In 2013, federal authorities obtained a warrant for the contents of a drug suspect's Microsoft email account. But Microsoft refused to comply and moved to quash the warrant. Why? Because the email records in question happened to be stored in the company's datacenter in Dublin, Ireland. As Microsoft argues in its brief in United States v. Microsoft Corporation, "because statutes apply only domestically unless Congress clearly indicates otherwise, the SCA should be read to apply only to electronic communications stored here, just as other countries' laws govern electronic communications stored on their soil."

The federal government takes the opposite view. Under the Stored Communications Act, it told the Court, "the government may compel a U.S. service provider to disclose electronic communications within its control, regardless of whether the provider stores those communications in the United States or abroad." What is more, the government argues, Microsoft's interpretation of the SCA "would hamper domestic law enforcement and counterterrorism efforts" by creating a massive loophole that could allow any U.S.-based email account to escape the reach of U.S officials so long as the data is stored abroad.

Oral arguments in United States v. Microsoft Corporation are scheduled for February 27.

3. Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky

Under Minnesota law, "a political badge, political button, or other political insignia may not be worn at or about the polling place on primary or election day." This ban applies to all apparel "designed to influence and impact voting" or "promoting a group with recognizable political views."

Andrew Cilek, the executive director of the conservative group Minnesota Voters Alliance, ran afoul of this law in 2010 when he tried to vote wearing a t-shirt adorned with an image of the Gadsen Flag, the phrase "Don't Tread on Me," and a Tea Party Patriots logo. Cilek was also wearing a "Please I.D. Me" button from the conservative group Election Integrity Watch. He is now spearheading a First Amendment lawsuit designed to strike the law from the books.

In essence, Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky asks whether the Constitution allows state governments to ban political attire within 100 feet of a polling place on election day, even when that attire makes no mention of any candidate, any campaign, or any political party. In other words, do you have a First Amendment right to wear an Occupy Wall Street t-shirt, or to wear a Tea Party hat, while casting a ballot?

Oral arguments in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky are scheduled for February 28.

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  1. …the government may compel a U.S. service provider to disclose electronic communications within its control, regardless of whether the provider stores those communications in the United States or abroad.

    You have to praise 1986 legislators to foresee international data centers.

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  2. In other words, do you have a First Amendment right to wear an Occupy Wall Street t-shirt, or to wear a Tea Party hat, while casting a ballot?

    “Yes, duh. Geez, why do they waste our time with this stuff?!”

    /SCOTUS

    1. Good comment, but you misspelled Tea Party hood.

      1. Haaaaank.

  3. ” may compel government workers to pay union fees as a condition of employment, even when those workers are not union members.”

    Beyond bizarre. Government employees should not even be permitted to unionize, and yet not only is it permitted, it is fucking mandatory.

    1. I mean, like, really?
      If only someone would invent a computer that could be programmed to apply union wages only to union members, and pay non-union members what ever they had negotiated on their own. Can you say moot point?

    2. Welcome to Dred Scott II. To goonion collectivists, fugitive slaves are “free” riders.

    3. How do you ban unionization without running afoul of the First Amendment?

      1. There is no conflict. The First Amendment guarantees right of association. It does not, however, require anyone else to recognize you or your association. So yes, you can hang around with people like yourself and you have a free right to gripe about your working conditions. To the extent that what you mean by “union” does that, it’s protected. But you do not have a constitutionally-protected right to compel your employer to negotiate with or even listen to you either individually or as a group.

        To put the example more clearly, can you imagine the Supreme Court finding a justification for unionization of the US Army? Can you imagine the chaos if they ever decided to strike? (By the way, it is in fact illegal for the US military to unionize per 10 U.S. ? 976. I am not aware of any successful challenges to the constitutionality of that law.) What legal justification requires allowing the unionization of civilian employees of the government while simultaneously forbidding it to the military? To the extent that you believe there is a public policy exception that applies to the military, why wouldn’t that same exception apply in exactly the same degree to paramilitary organizations such as the police?

        1. Turns out that there are a lot of ways the military are second-class citizens. Just one example: Frequenting legal, public establishments on a military “banned” list can get you court-martialed. So in effect, every other adult in the world is permitted to go into certain establishments, but if a military member does it, he can be tired and sentenced.

      2. How do you ban unionization without running afoul of the First Amendment?

        I don’t see a conflict. All the court needs to do is to strike down forced membership, forced membership dues, forced negotiations, and protections related to strikes. That can (and arguably should) be done for all unions, public or private. For public sector unions, we could make permanent firing from government employment mandatory when employees walk off the job.

        None of that conflicts with the First Amendment.

  4. The Court did so on the grounds that nonmember “free riders” should not be allowed to benefit from a public-sector union’s collective bargaining activities.

    Employees of non-union shops also shouldn’t get to free ride. Without unions you would all be working 16 hour days 7 days per week in sweatshop conditions.

    1. Maybe you might. I have skills that are in demand.

    2. Not me.
      45 years of work as a programmer. Sometimes wages, sometimes 1099 contractor, sometimes as my own company; but never in sweatshop conditions. In conditions I negotiated and accepted on my own. And when I worked 16 hours a day 7 days a week, I got paid good money for each and every hour. Then I took the money to the beach for a few weeks and relaxed. Then I negotiated another job on my own.

    3. Employees of non-union shops also shouldn’t get to free ride. Without unions you would all be working 16 hour days 7 days per week in sweatshop conditions.

      I can’t quite tell: are you trying to be sarcastic or are you really that stupid?

      1. He’s really that fucking stupid.

      2. I took it as sarcasm

    4. The fact that unions negotiated such things long ago does not mean there could be no other possible way for workers to obtain those conditions. If unions are so good for workers, why has union membership become less and less till almost the only unions now are public service unions? They do not work anymore for today’s workforce where people have widely diverse skill sets and frequently move from one job to another. Furthermore , it makes no sense for public workers to go on strike against the government, which is the institution which has the responsibility to enforce rights. The reality is that at the negotiating table, neither party has any incentive to restrain spending the taxpayers’ money. FDR himself opposed government unions in principle, and he was no protector of taxpayers.

  5. In essence, Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky asks whether the Constitution allows state governments to ban political attire within 100 feet of a polling place on election day, even when that attire makes no mention of any candidate, any campaign, or any political party.

    Only if you play dumb.

    “Tea Party” is a subset of the Republican party. In all the years since April 2009 when they first appeared, they’ve never given a reason to doubt this.

    1. Everyone knows the only rational way to vote is totally nude.

      /sarc

      1. Works for me.

        But you missed my point. I’m not saying it’s a good law. I’m saying Root is playing dumb if he the Tea Partier dressed to the 9s’s attire “[made] no mention of any candidate, any campaign, or any political party.”

        Argue the law is bad. Don’t play dumb.

        1. Yep

          promoting a group with recognizable political views

          A Tea Party Patriots logo fits the criteria.

        2. So would you consider any feminist iconography Democratic? Since the overlap between the two groups is close to perfect.

      2. The days of pulling the lever at the voting booth are long gone…

  6. The last one doesn’t go far enough. YTF would They even be able to disenfranchise someone wearing a shirt that DOES mention a candidate’s name?

    1. Of course you should be able to wear a shirt declaring support for a candidate in a polling place. Anyone whose vote would be affected in either direction by the sight of such a shirt shouldn’t be voting anyway.

  7. Of course the Court geezers in 1977 were hedging against the success of the Freeze and Surrender movement. I wouldn’t want to be hanged by International Socialists following a mock trial if their 5th column had been successful. But the commies lost, and their unions no longer may coerce less parasitical individuals. In the Microsoft case, cognitive dissonance is forcing me to reevaluate my conclusion that MS is still the bootlicking fascist monster depicted in the 1984 Superbowl commercial. Theirs is an unexpected display of courage. For the Ku-Klux Tea Party electioneering, I have no objection to mystical bigots tattooing Gott Mitt Uns! in Gothic Fraktur on their foreheads. I welcome the means to identify them on sight.

  8. I suppose that if the government can force you to pay taxes to support its political speech and activities (even if you oppose them) then they just have to define union fees as a tax and then they should be OK. I think there is precedent for SCOTUS calling things taxes even if they weren’t originally defined as such.

    1. Oh that would be a mistake. Once entities besides the government can be found to have a legal right to plunder you, that’ll be the end of society…

  9. Janus: Unions are scared of this one. If they lose, that’s just another source of forced plunder they lose.

    Microsoft: If the feds have a search warrant for my “premises”, does that give them the right to also search my house in Italy?

    Minnesota: the objection that signs “closer than 100 ft” of a polling place unduly influence voting is ludicrous, hence the objections to clothing, buttons etc are likewise.

    Why 100ft? Why not 1,000 or 10 ft? Does the distance make a difference? If there is nothing but an arbitrary distance from the polling place to the message then all these laws should be struck down…

  10. The Court’s “free-rider” argument in Abood, and in earlier union-shop cases like Railway Employees’ Dept. v. Hanson, rests on the questionable premise that all employees have a common interest, and that the union’s negotiators promote only that interest.

    This would be true if employees were compensated with money and money alone: the union would be pushing for higher wages, which would be what every employee wanted. When benefits and working conditions enter the picture, however, employees’ wishes will differ.

    Consider health benefits. I’m single and child-free and intend to remain so, and I put a substantial chunk of every paycheck into a rainy-day account. However, most of my fellow employees have burdened themselves with spouses and offspring, and don’t save money at all, unless it’s to make down payments on RVs or granite countertops. Given a choice between a high-deductible employee-alone health benefit that comes with a higher cash wage, and a zero-deductible covers-all-dependents benefit with a smaller paycheck, I would prefer the first; the union, representing the majority of its members, would push for the second.

    By the logic of Hanson, I can be compelled to pay dues to support the union’s collective-bargaining costs, even when their bargaining position is contrary to my own interests.

    1. “I’m single and child-free and intend to remain so, and I put a substantial chunk of every paycheck into a rainy-day account. However, most of my fellow employees have burdened themselves with spouses and offspring, and don’t save money at all, unless it’s to make down payments on RVs or granite countertops.”

      You sound very woke; it is a tremendous shame you are not reproducing.

      “By the logic of Hanson, I can be compelled to pay dues to support the union’s collective-bargaining costs, even when their bargaining position is contrary to my own interests.”

      Yes, that is how life on planet Earth works, occasionally.

      1. Way to ignore anything of substance in his post. He isn’t a “free rider” if he does not want what the union pushes for.

      2. Way to ignore anything of substance in his post. He isn’t a “free rider” if he does not want what the union pushes for.

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  12. If I am waiting on line to vote, and am influenced to change my opinion about a candidate based solely on the words on a t-shirt of a fellow voter standing in front of me, I really don’t think I should be pulling the lever for anyone.

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