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Healthcare, Borders, and Unions Oh My: The Week in SCOTUS

With just two weeks until the end of its spring term, the Supreme Court has nine outstanding rulings, and while healthcare is the issue on everyone’s mind, a few other cases are worth a glance, too. Here’s a quick rundown of the Justices’ week ahead:


Knox v. Service Employees International Union The central question to this case pertains to whether unions must issue notice when fees go up. The petitioners (Knox) are not members of the SEIU, but as California state employees, they’re part of the collective bargaining bloc, and so they pay what’s called an “agency fee” annually to the SEIU. In order to collect fees from these people, however, the SEIU must issue a “Hudson notice,” which informs nonmembers what their money will be used for in the coming year. This gives them the chance to object, and possibly abstain from paying.

Back in 2005, the SEIU issued its annual Hudson notice in July, collecting fees for the upcoming year and detailing the ways it would use the money. In August, however, the SEIU imposed a temporary fee increase without issuing a Hudson notice; what’s more, the money was to be used for political purposes, put toward the SEIU’s campaign to defeat certain measure on the ballot. The lower court ordered the SEIU to pay damages and refund those who objected; however, the petitioners contend that this is essentially allowing the union to make an interest-free loan to itself using objecting non-members’ money for political purposes. The Court must decide if this constitutes a violation of nonmembers’ First Amendment rights, and whether unions must issue a Hudson notice every time it raises fees.


This case was argued in January, and is one of the oldest ones remaining. It’s likely we could see this one on Thursday.

FCC v. Fox Television Stations This case is a little more straightforward. Following some high-profile breaches in rhetorical decorum on television, the Federal Communications Commission issued new standards pertaining to “fleeting” profanity and nudity. The defendants oppose these new measures on grounds that they’re too vague; and unlike in recent FCC cases, there’s a First Amendment issue afoot here. While the Constitution does not protect obscenity, it does allow indecency. Are fleeting, singular mentions of the “F-word” or “S-word” (the two at hand in this case), or moments of brief, scripted nudity, subject to penalty? Furthermore, is the FCC’s use of context when deciding to fine a network too vague? Communications law – and by extension, the viewing public – could see some interesting changes in the wake of this ruling, should it favor the network.

This case was also argued in January, and could show up on Thursday as well.

Arizona v. United States The much-maligned immigration law known as SB1070 had its day in court in April, and it’s second to healthcare in terms of politicized cases the Court heard this year. The case centers on what kind of power Arizona is exerting through SB1070. The state claims it’s merely cooperating with federal immigration law, and doing so using the states’ right to police power. The government, on the contrary, says Arizona is overstepping its bounds, and encroaching on the federal government’s power to control the border.


Importantly, racial profiling is not at issue here. The Court will not rule on the substance of the law; that issue could very well come up again later, but it will require a new challenge at the lower level. Right now, the Court is only dealing with the question of enforceability: can Arizona go ahead with its law, or does it preempt federal regulations?

Given that this was the last case the Court heard during its oral argument period, and given its controversial nature, it will likely be one of the last rulings handed down. Depending on whether the Court adds an extra decision day (more speculation on that below), this one could come on Monday or possibly later next week.

And finally, of course…

Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, et al The Court technically has four different questions to decide here, using three cases (colloquially, however, they’ve all been bunched together). It’s likely the Justices will issue them all in a lump sum opinion, though. First, they’ll rule on whether or not the individual mandate is a tax. If it is, then the Court can’t actually rule on the ACA, owing to the anti-injunction act, which prohibits citizens from suing the government for a tax that has yet to be collected. It’s much more likely that they’ll rule it isn’t a tax, however, which means we move on to issue number two: the mandate. The Justices will have to decide whether the individual mandate, compelling all individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a fee, constitutes an overstep of Congress’ power. If it is, then the Court moves on to the question of severability: if the mandate goes, does the rest of the law have to go, or can it stay? If the rest of the ACA stays, the Justices will tackle the issue of Medicaid expansion, and whether it constitutes coercion of the states.


This case likely to be the last one they hand down, so expect it Monday, or possibly next Wednesday or Thursday (we’ll find out later this week if they add an extra decision day).

As the Court hands down its more monumental decisions, we’ll have full coverage here at Townhall, so be sure to check back on Thursday morning this week!


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