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With the obvious caveat of oral arguments not being a perfect or even good predictor of opinions to come, the tone in Tuesday's oral arguments in DHS v. MacLean seemed to be sympathetic towards Robert MacLean, the Air Marshal whistleblower, rather than his former employer, the Transportation Security Administration.

The legal issue is the conflict between the federal whistleblower law, which encourages employees to come forward when there is a "danger to public heath or safety" and the Aviation and Transportation Safety Act, which has its own national security goals and allows the government to make "Secret Security Information (SSI)" semi-classified, preventing its disclosure.

Of course, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out during oral arguments, "the facts are very much in [MacLean's] favor here." He blew the whistle on the TSA's attempt to pull all Air Marshals from flights after taking it up with his supervisors internally, plus the information wasn't classified as SSI until three years later.

Last week, we blogged about the Big Fall Conference (aka long conference) at the U.S. Supreme Court. After a summer's worth of backlog clogs up the docket with around 2,000 certiorari petitions, the clerks of the Court sort through the chaff, the justices review their recommendations, and less than one percent are granted cert.

Of the 1,845 listed for Monday's BFC, and SCOTUSblog's "Petitions We're Watching" list, here are a few that we're particularly interested in, covering everything from equality (in marriage and employment) to juvenile sentencing:

All eyes have been on Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court's decision on the contraceptive mandate. But what about the other Supreme Court decision from the Court's final day, also authored by Justice Samuel Alito?

Is Harris v. Quinn a decision that we shouldn't be overlooking?

You've heard of Robert MacLean, right? If not, you haven't been paying attention to our Federal Circuit blog. (We'll give you a moment to bookmark it.)

In 2003, the Transportation and Security Administration decided to pull marshals from long-distance flights, even though the agency had recently learned of a credible threat of a potential hijacking plot. MacLean protested the move through the proper channels, but when his protests were ignored, he leaked the information to the press. After a second leak led to his unmasking, he was fired for disclosing sensitive security information.

Government employees have free speech rights when discussing a matter of public concern. Except when it disrupts the workplace. Or when the speech is made pursuant to their job duties. Citizen speech is protected. Official speech is not.

It's a convoluted rule, this standard borne from Garcetti v. Ceballos. How does one determine if speech is made as a citizen or as an employee? As the Wait a Second! blog notes, Garcetti was initially interpreted narrowly (speech is protected unless that speech is mandated by one's job duties) but has since been broadened by the circuit courts to include pretty much anything that you learn about in the line of duty.

Steel workers have to wear safety gear. Lots of it, in fact. And "donning and doffing" this gear takes quite a bit of time. They want to be paid for this time.

Unfortunately, their union, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. 203(o), already agreed that they shouldn't get paid for this time. That provision requires employers to pay for time spent changing clothes, unless collective bargaining provides to the contrary.

The question is, can the massive amount of protective gear that they are required to wear be considered "clothes," as that word was used in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938?

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.

We continue our review of this week's grants with a look at the other four cases granted cert., and while none of these possesses the star power of Raging Bull, these cases might actually be far more important than patent trolls and copyright disputes.

Fundamental Fourth Amendment principles, millions of dollars worth of taxes, and compelled union dues all await the Supreme Court in this batch of four cases, likely headed for the January oral argument docket.

Hell Hath No Fury Like an NLRB Loser Scorned

We all know the traditional protocols. When an appellate court issues a decision that would overrule a bunch of district court decisions, you appeal your adverse district court ruling to the appellate court.

But when it comes to the endless cycle of litigation prompted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recess appointments, the rules suddenly change.

Federal Employee Can Bring Discrimination Claim in District Court

The Supreme Court resolved a narrow, but long-standing circuit conflict this week in Kloeckner v. Solis, a jurisdictional dispute about the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

Monday, the Court ruled that a federal employee who claims that an agency action appealable to the MSPB violates an anti-discrimination statute should seek judicial review in district court — not the Federal Circuit — regardless of whether the MSPB decided her case on procedural grounds or on the merits.