Union Case Dropped; Younger Clarified; Congress Comes to Court - Court News - U.S. Supreme Court
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Union Case Dropped; Younger Clarified; Congress Comes to Court

Ready for a three-peat of SCOTUS updates?

Remember that big union case out of Florida, the case that could have changed top-down unionization and greatly weakened organized labor's ability to unionize workplaces through deals with management? Never mind.

And in a less exciting case, the Court clarified Younger abstention, reinstating a lawsuit by Sprint against a local telephone provider.

Plus, Congress was just added to the oral arguments in Noel Canning, the National Labor Relations Board appointments dispute.

Unite Here v. Mulhall: Improvidently Granted

Again, this was supposed to be a landmark case. But according to the Justice Breyer's dissent (joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan), during briefing and oral arguments, two issues arose: was the case moot (the union contract ended in 2011) and did Mulhall have standing?

Breyer would've asked for briefing on the mootness and standing issues, and had either issue been substantiated, he would've vacated the Eleventh Circuit's opinion. Instead, the circuit court's opinion stands, and sets a precedent in that circuit that makes "top-down" unionization deals, where the union bargains with management (giving up workers' rights) before organizing the workers, difficult to pull off without violating the law. Something as simple as providing workers' contact information could lead to a jail sentence under the circuit court's holding.

Sprint Communications v. Jacobs: Stop Abstaining

Sprint got into a dispute with a local telecommunications provider, Windstream, over whether interstate fee payments were due under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 for long-distance phone calls made via VoIP (internet, rather than physical lines). The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB), despite the parties' resolution of the issue and desire to drop the case, ruled against Sprint anyway.

Sprint challenged the IUB order in both state and federal court. The Federal District Court abstained from hearing the case in deference to the parallel state court proceeding, invoking Younger abstention. The Eighth Circuit affirmed because of Iowa's important interest in regulating and enforcing state utility rates. The Supreme Court, however, reversed, and clarified the narrow applicability of the Younger abstention doctrine.

In New Orleans Public Service, Inc. (NOPSI), the Court identified three "exceptional circumstances" in which Younger abstention applies: ongoing state criminal proceedings, "civil enforcement proceedings" akin to criminal prosecutions, and proceedings in "furtherance of the state courts' ability to perform their judicial functions."

None are applicable here, as this was not a criminal matter, not a matter involving judicial functions, and despite the lower courts' misreading of Middlesex, this was not the type of civil enforcement proceeding where Younger abstention is appropriate. Middlesex was a state-initiated attorney disciplinary matter. This was a Sprint-initiated proceeding, not the result of an investigation or formal complaint.

NLRB v. Noel Canning: Congress Comes to Court

Yesterday, in its miscellaneous orders list, the Court granted Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (and his 45-member caucus) leave to participate in oral arguments in Noel Canning, a case that addresses the constitutional limits of the president's recess appointment powers.

A number of circuit courts have ruled against President Barack Obama in challenges to his recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. And though the NLRB has since been filled with Senate-approved members, the balance of power between Congress and the President, as well as a number of NLRB decisions made by allegedly unconstitutionally-constructed boards, are at stake.

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