‘An Equally Divided Court’: Workplace Law in the U.S. Supreme Court 2015-2016
28 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2017
Date Written: 2016
The 2015-2016 Term of the United States Supreme Court was scarcely halfway over when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away on February 12, 2016. This event and the political gridlock over his successor defined the Term in some ways more than the actual decisions of the Court, particularly when the resulting vacancy led an “equally divided” Supreme Court to affirm the courts below in a one sentence judgment. The most watched of these cases in workplace law was Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, where the Supreme Court’s 4-4 tie avoided the overruling of decades of precedent upholding the constitutionality of agency shop agreements in the public sector. The oral argument and the deadlocked vote which resulted from the unexpected death of Justice Scalia spotlighted the laws governing unions and collective bargaining as among the most politically polarized issues on the Court’s docket. Besides another case involving the Constitution in the context of a mayoral election campaign, and a case involving the scope of an exemption under the Fair Labor Standards Act, other workplace law cases in this Term focused on procedural interpretations, rather than making major changes or new pronouncements of law. Nonetheless, with the new Trump Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress, there will be several examples of politically charged issues and cases on the front burner in the future.
Keywords: Supreme Court, Labor and Employment, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, Workplace Law, Fair Labor Standards Act
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