Two Supreme Court Business Cases Affected by Scalia’s Absence
With the surprising and sudden death over the weekend of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, what happens to cases the court had decided, but not yet announced? The answer is this: Anything the court had decided with a 5–4 vote is now considered void and must be reconsidered. And if the court can’t now get past a 4–4 split on any of these, the case’s lower court ruling stands.
While no one knows what votes have taken place behind the court’s closed doors, there are several business-related cases that were believed to be close enough calls that they may be left up in the air by Scalia’s death. These two are viewed as the most highly charged pending cases.
Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association
It seems likely that Scalia’s death means that public unions have dodged an extremely damaging ruling. The court has been considering overturning its earlier Abood v. Detroit Board of Education ruling, which held that unions can charge fees of non-union members if the union is representing them in salary and benefit negotiations.
Non-union members claimed that these fees forced them to support union positions in favor of political candidates (mostly Democrats) of whom they didn’t personally approve. The unions claimed that political actions were not paid for with these fees.
The court appeared ready to rule against the unions, thanks to Scalia’s reliably conservative vote. If their internal vote was 5–4, the unions just got lucky.
Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo
In this class-action case, employees of Tyson Foods had sued their employer for not paying them for the time it took them to dress and undress in the required safety gear. They sought damages based on the average time it took, since different employees wore different gear.
A lower court awarded the employees about six million dollars, but Tyson contended that that the average time was meaningless and that their changing times were different enough that they shouldn’t be able to sue together in a class action suit. The plaintiffs disagreed, saying their experience of not being paid for changing time was essentially the same and that how long dressing and undressing took them all wasn’t all that different in any event.
Since the Supreme Court’s been seen lately as being anti-class-action suits, this could well be another unannounced decision tossed aside now, with the employees chances of prevailing having improved without the pro-business Justice Scalia.