TIME Courts

Penn State Ex-Coaches Sue University for $1 Million Over Dismissal

Jay Paterno, son of former Penn State football head coach Joe Paterno, speaks during a memorial service for his father in State College, Pa., in 2012.
Jay Paterno, son of former Penn State football head coach Joe Paterno, speaks during a memorial service for his father in State College, Pa., in 2012. Gene J. Puskar—AP

One is the son of former head coach Joe Paterno

Two former assistant football coaches at Penn State, including the son of the late head coach Joe Paterno, have filed a lawsuit seeking $1 million in damages from the university, claiming they were unfairly linked to the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.

Jay Paterno and Bill Kenney, the two plaintiffs in the suit, were fired in the aftermath of the Sandusky affair when the new head coach Bill O’Brien signed on. Sandusky was sentenced to between 30 and 60 years in prison in 2012, after being convicted of child molestation and abuse charges.

Paterno and Kenney argue in the lawsuit that their dismissal was baseless, CNN reports. Since their dismissal in January 2012, they “have been denied lucrative employment opportunities based upon the false light and association by innuendo,” the lawsuit claims.

The two are seeking $1 million in compensation from Penn State for damages to their reputation and inability to meaningfully provide for themselves. They also want Penn State to issue a statement absolving them of any connection with Sandusky.

Penn State said in a statement Tuesday “it is common practice for incoming head coaches to select their own coaching staff,” PennLive.com reports.

Jay Paterno’s father, Joe Paterno, was the head coach of the Penn State team for much of the period that Sandusky served as assistant coach. Paterno Sr. was fired in November 2011 and died just over 2 months later.


TIME Courts

Sleeping Yankees Fan’s Lawsuit Won’t Get Far, Legal Experts Say

A $10 million lawsuit filed by a man who was broadcast on ESPN while sleeping during a baseball game draws skepticism


Legal experts are skeptical of the $10 million lawsuit filed by a man after he was broadcast on ESPN while sleeping during a baseball game.

Andrew Rector, who was sitting amongst Yankees fans with his head resting on his shoulder, appeared to have dozed off during the April 13 Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game. Once Rector appeared on camera, ESPN commentators Dan Shulman and John Kruk quickly began discussing his slumped-over body.

“Maybe that’s his buddy, and he likes him a lot better when [Rector's] asleep,” Kruk said, referring to a man sitting next to Rector. The commentator duo also remarked that Rector was “oblivious,” expressing surprise that he had fallen asleep during the fourth inning.

Rector filed the suit against ESPN, Shulman, Kruk, the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball (MLB), which also picked up the footage, according to Courthouse News Service. Rector claims damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, citing false statements said about him including that Rector is “a fatty cow” that represents a “symbol of failure.”

In response, ESPN stated that “the comments attributed to ESPN and our announcers were clearly not said in our telecast. The claims presented here are wholly without merit.” MLB declined to comment.

Legal experts agree with ESPN’s assessment. “I think he has no chance on this lawsuit,” Vincent Blasi, a professor at Columbia Law School and expert in tort law, told TIME. “If the grievance is defamation, you have to show someone said something factually false about him. It requires a misstatement of an empirical fact.”

The idea of defamation rests on false written or spoken statements about an individual that damages his or her reputation. Classic defamation cases include suits in which the plaintiff was falsely accused in public statements of manipulating clients in business, or having a debilitating infectious disease.

“[Rector was] clearly been set up for ridicule. He’s unfortunate. He’s been made a butt of jokes. But there’s just no defamatory statement about him,” Harvard Law School professor John Goldberg told TIME, noting that defamation suits rest more on reputation damages than emotional distress.

Goldberg added that the suit, which was filed in Bronx County Supreme Court in New York, would face an uphill — if not entirely vertical — battle. Though there are constitutional limits applying to all U.S. states, New York is “notoriously unfriendly to defamation suits,” and it is “very unlikely that the suit will get anywhere,” he said.

Still, defamation suits have the potential to result in significant compensation. A Palestinian shopkeeper, Ayman Abu Aita, filed in 2009 a multimillion lawsuit against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and the Late Show With David Letterman after the TV program aired a clip from Baron Cohen’s movie Bruno that portrayed him as a terrorist. Aita claimed the movie damaged his business and caused him to receive death threats. The case was subsequently settled in 2012 “to the mutual satisfaction” of everyone, according to Fox News.

TIME Supreme Court

Why Liberals Can be Grateful for the Hobby Lobby Ruling

Supreme Court Hobby Lobby Liberals Birth Control
People with signs outside the Supreme Court building await a ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby on June 30, 2014 in Washington. Evan Golub—Demotix/Corbis

The silver lining for liberals angry at a high court decision

In ruling that “closely-held” corporations can opt out of the Affordable Care Act obligation to pay for employees’ contraception on religious grounds, the Supreme Court majority handed down a decision that could have been tailored to the Green family, the ultra-religious owners of Hobby Lobby, who brought the case.

But the fact that the Greens brought this case is also, in a way, a relief to those who oppose the ruling. That’s because the Greens enabled the court to avoid a much broader ruling that all corporations could be exempted, if they could lay authentic claim to holding religious anti-contraception views– or, to put it bluntly, that any corporation could sidestep various government regulations by claiming faith.

Five members of the Green family appear to be the only shareholders in Hobby Lobby, a big-box crafts chain with a reported 28,000 employees, who will presumably soon be looking for some other way to afford certain kinds of contraception. Two years ago, about 18 or 19 members of the family voted unanimously to become plaintiffs in this case. Although the whole Green family no longer belongs, as the company’s founding generation did, to one extremely conservative Pentecostal denomination (The Church of God of Prophecy) that used to strongly discourage its members from gathering in sinful locales like bowling alleys, the Greens remain extremely traditional Protestants, who believe that their reading of the 139th Psalm and other biblical passages makes it impossible for them to participate in their employees’ use of I.U.D.s and morning-after pills.

How Christian is Hobby Lobby? Its Muzak is spiced with hymns. Some of its corporate meetings begin with prayer. It employs chaplains who evangelize not only to nominal Christians, but also to non-believing workers. More substantively, it gives employees Sundays off as church-and-family days, and pays more than twice the Oklahoma minimum wage to entry-level workers on Christian grounds. According to David Green, Hobby Lobby’s founder, and his son Steve, its President, the company also gives away roughly half its earnings, which would come to over $50 million a year– and make it something close to a steroidal Christian charity.

In other words, the company is about as Christian as it is possible for a corporation to get, which was essential in convincing the courts that some corporations could be considered “persons” protected by the 1993 law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

But it also enabled—indeed, invited—the Supreme Court to avoid ruling that non closely-held corporations, which is to say most of them, have any religious rights, and to rule out some of the more controversial claims even by closely-held businesses. As Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion, “the idea that unrelated shareholders—including institutional investors with their own set of stakeholders—would agree to run a corporation under the same religious beliefs seems improbable. In any event, we have no occasion in these cases to consider RFRA’s applicability to such companies. ” He continues, “This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g. for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs…Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.”

None of these qualifications were on the Greens’ wish list.

Would Alito have come to the same conclusions if the plaintiffs in the case had been less like Hobby Lobby and more like General Motors? Perhaps. But having the example of the Greens in front of him made it easy. That’s not to say that the category represented by Hobby Lobby is chickenfeed. Even before the ruling, 46 for-profit companies had sued for exemption on religious grounds. Overtly religious, closely held companies appear to be a growing sector, and includes such giants as the $ 4 billion dollar fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A, In-N-Out Burger, and the clothing country Forever 21. Thus before the dust has cleared, it would not be surprising if over a hundred thousand employees found themselves looking for new providers for contraception. And the Religious Right can justifiably say that the Court has handed down a victory for their definition of religious freedom.

But one could also say that the very religiosity of the Greens may have helped prevent this from being the huge ruling on whether corporations can be religious that some analysts had expected. The various parties who oppose the ruling have reason to be grateful for the Oklahoma family’s extravagantly expressed faith.

TIME Courts

Religious Groups Divided on Hobby Lobby Ruling

Supreme Court Issues Ruling In Hobby Lobby ACA Contraception Mandate Case
Hobby Lobby supporters react to the U.S. Supreme Court decision on June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Conservative Christians rejoice at Monday's ruling, but some church leaders question whether it's good for religious freedom or access to healthcare

On Sunday night, Hobby Lobby was simply a craft store. On Monday morning, it became the champion of religious liberty for conservative faith groups across the country.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 5-4 split decision on June 30 that closely-held corporations can hold religious views under federal law, meaning that religious for-profit companies can refuse to pay for the employee contraceptive coverage required by President Barack Obama’s health care reform law.

Conservative Christian voices immediately praised the ruling and offered their prayers of thanksgiving. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the ruling, “one of the most significant victories for religious freedom in our generation.” Rick Santorum, former U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate, described it as “a tremendous victory for our freedom of conscience.” Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted “Hallejulah” within seconds, and then “Gave proof through the night that our First Amendment’s still there.” Soon after, Moore posted on his blog, “This is as close as a Southern Baptist gets to dancing in the streets for joy.”

A supporting chorus of the faithful around the country quickly added to the rejoicing. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called Monday a “great day for the religious freedom of family businesses.” George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God church, commended the court “for recognizing that individuals do not surrender their religious freedom rights when they incorporate as a closely held, for profit business.” Brian Fisher, president of Online for Life, stated, “No person or entity should be forced to provide baby-killing drugs to their employees.” Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, explained that the decision does not stop here: “I do believe that while this outcome validates this fundamental right, the many threats in both culture and society make religious liberty the quintessential civil rights issue of the 21st century.”

It would be a mistake, however, to believe that all religious groups are pleased with Monday’s ruling. Many religious leaders, Christian and non-Christian, see the decision as a setback for both the freedom of faithful practice and access to health care for which they have advocated for years. “The Court has privileged bosses and their corporations–who now are allowed to exercise religious belief, even though a corporation can’t sit in a pew–over women,” said Rev. Dr. Althea Smith-Withers, who chairs the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, whose members include the American Jewish Committee, the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ. “Contraception is a moral good, a fact supported by the various denominations and organizations that make up our coalition. It’s a shame that it may be out of reach for the women who need it the most.”

Union Theological Seminary president Serene Jones called the decision a loss for Christians who desire to be faithful. “As a Christian, I believe that God creates human beings individually, and that the mark of our individual blessedness before God is our souls,” she said in a statement. “I am horrified by the thought that the owners of Hobby Lobby as Christians think their corporation has a soul, and I’m even more appalled that the Supreme Court agrees.”

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, is concerned that corporate owners now have more faith and health-related protections than their employees. “It is fairly stunning that the Supreme Court in today’s Hobby Lobby ruling held that a corporation’s owners can extend their religious preferences to the corporation’s employees regardless of their employees’ religious views,” Campbell says. “It raises the serious concern about employees being able to get needed services.”

The divide is a reminder that conservative religious groups are celebrating a broader victory. Yes, they transformed a dispute about health care coverage requirements into a symbolic case about religious freedom. But they have had few big culture war wins in recent years, especially as public opinion shifts in favor of marriage equality. The Hobby Lobby ruling—handed down on the last day of LGBT Pride month—is a bright spot for conservative Christians who feel besieged by cultural values they do not share.

The case’s broader religious freedom implications, however, may be more limited than many victors might hope. The decision is based on a 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, not the First Amendment more broadly. Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, was careful to clarify the ruling is restrained in scope. “This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g. for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs,” he wrote in the ruling. “Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.”

TIME Courts

How John Roberts’ Supreme Court Is Slowly Bridging the Political Divide

John G Roberts Jr
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has overseen a shift in the way the Supreme Court approaches cases. Stephan Savoia—AP

Partisans are crowing about Monday's divided Supreme Court decision, but ideological division appears to be on decline in the nation's highest court

Nine years into his service as Chief Justice, John Roberts may finally have shaped the nation’s highest tribunal into a “Roberts Court.” The term that ended on Monday was a reflection of goals that Roberts set during his 2005 confirmation hearings—more unanimous opinions, for example, and a more modest idea of the Supreme Court’s role in society.

Despite two 5-to-4 splits on the final day of term, in cases involving union dues and the Affordable Care Act, the Roberts Court delivered unanimous opinions in more than 60 percent of the cases decided this year, the highest percentage in decades. That doesn’t happen by accident. As the eminent Constitutional authority Lawrence Tribe of Harvard Law School has noted, a number of these 9-to-0 opinions contain significant disputes just beneath the surface. The Roberts Court is placing high value, in a time of polarized government, on finding common ground in spite of real philosophical differences.

And there was something distinctive about those 5-to-4 calls on the final day, as well. Faced with sharp splits that could not be papered over, Roberts assigned the same associate justice to write both of the opinions: Samuel Alito.

Alito is a fascinating judge—that is, if modesty and predictability happen to fascinate you. Arguably the purest conservative on the Court, Alito disdains the sort of flashy, rhetorical disagreement perfected by Antonin Scalia and former Justice John Paul Stevens, the dueling dissenters of the earlier Rehnquist Court. His Monday rulings reflected both his conservatism and his judicial modesty. In a case challenging the power of public employee unions to impose fees on non-members, Alito’s opinion went against the union. But he stopped well short of the sweeping blow that anti-union politicians and pundits were hoping for.

Likewise, in a case asking whether the owners of private corporations can be forced to provide contraception methods that offend their religious beliefs, Alito anchored a majority in favor of the owners. But his opinion was hedged throughout. Questions of how the ruling might apply to publicly traded corporations, or whether it might apply to other religious convictions, were left for another day.

In 2005, Roberts famously compared this narrow approach to a baseball umpire calling balls and strikes. The umpire is not making a blanket ruling covering every conceivable pitch. The idea is to frame a strike zone and apply it consistently on a pitch-by-pitch basis. The fact that Alito wrote both of the last-day opinions suggests that he’s the justice that Roberts wants behind the plate on the close calls. This matters because the Chief Justice has so few powers, and one of the most important is that when the Chief is part of the majority, he gets to choose the writer.

By such small increments, change comes to the Supreme Court. It is, by its nature, a slow-moving institution. And the Chief Justice is the least powerful of the leaders of the branches of American government—just one of nine voices, all with an equal say in which cases the Court will hear and how they will be decided. But step by step, opinion by opinion, Roberts is stamping his image on the institution. The term that ended on Monday put us clearly into the Roberts Court era.

TIME Courts

American Corporations Are Powerful Enough Without a Conscience

Supreme Court Delivers Decisions Against Aereo And Rules In Favor Of Cellphone Privacy
The U.S. Supreme Court is shown on June 25, 2014 in Washington. Win McNamee—Getty Images

Corporations have more economic power than they’ve ever had in this country as measured by their share of overall U.S. GDP. Now, thanks to a new Supreme Court ruling, they have more religious freedom too. In the closely watched Sebelius versus Hobby Lobby case, the court decided in favor of Hobby Lobby, a craft retail store chain run by a family of Pentecostals who believe that offering up certain birth control options via employee insurance, which had been mandated under the Affordable Care Act, conflicted with their religious beliefs. The courts thought they had a point–and the ruling says that such “closely held” family companies are no longer required to provide contraception for workers, similar to religious non-profits, some of which already have the same exception.

The upshot? Companies can now officially have a conscience. Just as the Citizen’s United case allowed companies the rights of individuals when it came to political donations, this case is setting a big precedent for corporations to be treated as individuals when it comes to religious freedom.

There are all sorts of potential business implications. First and most immediately, you could see a difference in access to paid contraception for women who work in big publicly held firms versus privately held and/or family owned ones. That’s no small thing, given that private firms drive 50 percent of GDP and about 65 percent of new job creation in this country. It could also create a further divide in access to contraception between rich and poor women. The former tend to work in greater numbers for large, publicly held companies. The latter are more likely to be laboring in small, local firms–the town hairdresser, a restaurant, or a doctor’s office–than in bigger firms like Hobby Lobby.

The ruling could also open the door to all sorts of other challenges to workplace legislations based on notions of religious freedom. Take the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, for example, that would include sexual orientation amongst the protected characteristics in workplace discrimination suits. Could firms like Hobby Lobby challenge that, too?

Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, this ruling gives more power (economic and personal) to U.S. corporations, at the expense of individual human labor. That’s a shift that’s been happening for decades now (and interestingly, was forwarded by another anti-union ruling that came down from the Court today). And to me, it’s worrisome. At a time when corporations have more economic power than ever, pay the lowest share of taxes as a percentage of the total take in history, and are creating fewer jobs than in the past, do they really need more special treatment that compromises a public good (in this case, equal access to healthcare) and puts more of a burden on individuals? I don’t think so.

TIME Courts

Supreme Court Rules Government Can’t Make Some Employers Cover Contraception

Pro-life supporter Michael Hichborn with American Life League prays outside the US Supreme Court where the nine justices are expected to issue their ruling on the Hobby Lobby case, which challenges the Affordable Care ActÕs mandate that employee health plans include pregnancy preventive services, in Washington on June 30, 2014.
Pro-life supporter Michael Hichborn with American Life League prays outside the US Supreme Court where the nine justices are expected to issue their ruling on the Hobby Lobby case, which challenges the Affordable Care ActÕs mandate that employee health plans include pregnancy preventive services, in Washington on June 30, 2014. Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA

In setback for Obama health law

Private corporations that are so-called “closely held” have a right to religious freedom under U.S. law just like individual citizens, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, in a divided opinion that will allow religious for-profit companies to refuse to pay for the employee contraceptive coverage required by President Barack Obama’s health care reform law.

The 5 to 4 decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, found that the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act violates a 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RCPA) in the case of two for-profit businesses, the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby of Oklahoma City and the cabinetry maker Conestoga Wood Specialties of Pennsylvania. The owners of both stores argued that certain forms of covered contraception, including Plan B, ella and intrauterine devices, had the potential to work after conception, violating their religious values. The ruling applies to “closely held” corporations that are controlled by just a few people.

Congress passed the RCPA in 1993 to mandate that the government use the “least restrictive means” of furthering its interests in situations that infringed on the religious freedoms. Alito ruled that the contraception mandate did not meet that test, which he said must be applied even in case of objections by closely held corporations. “Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law,” Alito wrote in his opinion.

But Alito also limited the scope of his opinion in response to concerns from liberal justices. “This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g. for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs,” Alito wrote. “Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.” Alito also wrote that the case may not apply directly to large publicly traded companies, where the beliefs of the shareholders are more difficult to discern.

Alito was joined in the majority ruling by Justices John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

The cases asked the court to weigh the rights of closely held for-profit corporations to follow the religious beliefs of their owners against the rights of employees to get health insurance coverage for a broad range of contraception.

Political reaction to the ruling was swift. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the decision “jeopardizes the health of women” employed by affected companies.

“The Supreme Court ruled today that some bosses can now withhold contraceptive care from their employees’ health coverage based on their own religious views that their employees may not even share,” he said. “President Obama believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them.”

Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz described the decision as an assault on women’s access to health care. “This decision takes money out of the pockets of women and their families and allows for-profit employers to deny access to certain health care benefits based on their personal beliefs,” she said in a statement.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus countered that the decision was a victory for religious freedom. “We’re grateful the Court ruled on the side of liberty,” he said in a statement. “The central issue of this case was whether the federal government can coerce Americans to violate their deeply held religious beliefs.”

The Obama Administration has previously given waivers on the contraception mandate to certain non-profit religious organizations, like churches and mosques. Other non-profits with religious affiliations, like the University of Notre Dame, are pursuing separate lawsuits against the mandate, which could reach the Supreme Court in the next term.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote that employees of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties may be able to still get full contraceptive coverage with a government workaround that has been offered to employees of religious non-profits. “The accommodation works by requiring insurance companies to cover, without cost sharing, contraception coverage for female employees who wish it,” Kennedy wrote.

The dissent in the case, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, decried the majority ruling, calling it “a decision of startling breadth” that would allow commercial enterprises to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, Ginsburg went on to argue that corporations, even those controlled by a single family, do not have free exercise rights for religion. “[T]he exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons,” she wrote, “not artificial legal entities.”

TIME Courts

Supreme Court Deals Public Unions a Blow

Supreme Court Delivers Decisions Against Aereo And Rules In Favor Of Cellphone Privacy
The U.S. Supreme Court is shown on June 25, 2014 in Washington. Win McNamee—Getty Images

In sharply-divided 5-4 decision

The Supreme Court decided Monday that public sector unions cannot collect “fair share” fees from non-union-members, in a 5-4 decision that dealt unions a sharp blow.

The much-awaited decision limits, but does not reverse, the court’s well-trodden ruling from 1977, known as Abood. In that case, the court found that requiring non-union-members to pay “fair share” fees did not violate workers’ First Amendment rights, so long as those fees do not go to advancing specifically “political or ideological” ends.

The decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, marks a loss for public sector unions, which may see their coffers and power depleted in coming years, although it’s not the worst-case scenario that many labor activists feared. The ruling stopped short of finding all “fair share” dues unconstitutional. It also does not affect all full-time public employees, but only a category called “partial public employees,” which includes a growing sector of home heath care workers.

The decision also marks a victory for the anti-union group, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is backed by many hardline conservatives, including the Koch family. Representing the plaintiff, the Legal Defense Foundation argued that requiring non-union-members to pay some “fair share” union fees was the same as requiring them to pay to support “political or ideological ends.” Their argument hinged on the idea that, in this day and age, any involvement with a union is inherently “political or ideological.”

During oral arguments in January, Justice Anthony Kennedy posed a series of hard questions about the harm done to the workers who did not support the existence of the union and yet were required to pay union fees, although he stopped short of suggesting he thought it was a First Amendment question. Justice Stephen Breyer worried that “the courts of the United States are going to fashion, using the First Amendment as their weapon, a new special labor law for government employees.”

The ruling is arguably the most significant labor law decision since the 1980s and may significantly weaken many public sector unions across the country by essentially placing them under the same rules that exist in “right to work” states. In “right to work” states, it is illegal to require workers in most sectors to pay any union fees. In such states, labor unions’ power has dwindled precipitously in the last three decades; public sector unions are the only unions that remained relatively strong across the country. It’s particularly significant for the home health care industry, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to grow by roughly 70 percent in the next decade.

This case, Harris v. Quinn, dealt with home care workers in Illinois who care for the disabled. The plaintiff, Pamela Harris, cares for her adult son who suffers from a rare genetic disorder. In that capacity, Harris receives a Medicare check to act as her son’s caregiver. Because her paycheck is from the government, she is considered a partial employee of the state, and therefore represented by the union Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Illinois-Indiana.

According to a contract between SEIU Healthcare and Illinois, and about 10 other states, home care workers were obligated to pay fees to SEIU to cover the expenses associated with bargaining, whether or not they were union members. Non-union-members also benefited from union-negotiated contracts. Since organizing in 2003, home care workers’ rages got bargained up from $5 an hour to $11.85 an hour, and will rise to $13 in December, according to Lydia DePillis at the Washington Post.

Like many others like it, the SEIU’s contract with the states was designed to avoid freeloading and drew its legal foundation from the court’s decision in Abood. But in this case, Harris and her fellow plaintiffs argued that being required to pay union fees amounted to “forced association” with a group with whom they may disagree, which amounts to a violation of their First Amendment rights.

The plaintiffs’ argument was built largely on an often-revisited caveat within the 1977 Abood decision, in which the court specified that while non-union members could be required to pay fees for collective bargaining, their money could not be used in any way to support a union’s political or ideological activity. Under that standard, forcing a worker to pay to support a certain variety of political speech—rather than economic bargaining—would be a violation of their First Amendment rights.

Over the last 37 years, there have been repeated legal challenges questioning where, exactly, that line is drawn, but the court has repeatedly upheld its decision in Abood. The decision today, while not overturning Abood, significantly limits the scope of that decision which may have serious ramifications for many unions that collect “fair share” fees.

TIME Courts

Supreme Court Issues Broad Defense of Digital Privacy in Cell Phone Case

A landmark ruling

The Supreme Court issued a far-reaching defense of digital privacy in a landmark ruling Wednesday, blocking law enforcement officials from searching cell phones without a warrant at the scene of an arrest or after—except in cases of extraordinary and specific danger, like child abduction or the threat of a terrorist attack.

In broad language, Chief Justice John Roberts carved out protections for privacy in the digital age, saying that “more substantial privacy interests are at stake when digital data is involved” than in the past, in part because a cell phone collects “in one place many distinct types of information that reveal much more in combination than any isolated record.”

The decision overruled two lower courts and was unanimous.

Law enforcement officials are still free to search the immediate area of an arrest to ensure their safety and protect evidence without a warrant. Police can also seek a warrant to search a cell phone from an arrested suspect. But the decision is notable because the court has struggled in past cases to define clear and broad rules where digital technology and constitutional rights collided.

“There was a real prospect that the Court would split the baby in the cell phone cases,” wrote Tom Goldstein, a member of the Supreme Court bar, on his website, SCOTUSBlog, in the wake of the ruling. “But the Court instead articulated a bright line rule that is much clearer and will be much easier to administer in practice.”

The language used by Roberts regarding the ability of cell phones to collect vast amounts of information in one place will encourage those who believe that Americans have greater expectations of privacy from government intrusion for the vast amounts of digital data they produce every day. “The broad language in today’s opinion in protecting digital privacy may prove significant for NSA surveillance,” wrote Goldstein.

TIME Technology & Media

Supreme Court Rules TV-Streaming Startup Aereo Violates Copyright

Aereo Supreme Court
Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia leaves the U.S. Supreme Court after oral arguments on April 22, 2014 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

A victory for broadcasters and a defeat for Aereo

A company that grabs over-the-air broadcast TV signals and lets consumers pay to store them online and watch on their computers is violating copyright law, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The court’s ruling, in a hotly awaited decision, is a potentially fatal blow for the small, Brooklyn-based TV-streaming startup Aereo, and a victory for traditional broadcast companies like NBC, ABC and CBS.

In a statement, Aereo CEO and founder Chet Kanojia described the decision as a “massive setback for the American consumer” and worried that it “sends a chilling message to the technology industry.” The consumer interest group Public Knowledge also expressed concern that the decision “leaves consumers beholden to dominant entertainment and cable companies that constantly raise prices and gouge consumers.”

The 6-3 decision centered on the idea that Aereo, despite its claims to the contrary, should be subject to the same rules governing how cable and satellite companies pay to retransmit the content from broadcast companies’ signals. The majority of justices found that “behind-the-scenes technological differences do not distinguish Aereo’s system from cable systems, which do perform publicly.” It has been infringing on broadcasters’ copyright by transmitting their public signals without paying for those rights, the justices ruled.

Media mogul Barry Diller, who is one of Aereo’s primary backers, conceded that the battle was lost. “We did try, but it’s over now,” he told CNBC Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, National Association of Broadcasters trade association, along with broadcasters like 21st Century Fox, commended the Court’s decision, calling it a victory for copyright law.

“Today’s decision sends an unmistakable message that businesses built on the theft of copyrighted material will not be tolerated,” wrote NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith in a statement.

Cable and satellite companies pay “retransmission consent fees” to broadcast companies in order to retransmit what the court calls a “public performance” of TV content. The court found that Aereo’s unique business model was designed to exploit a loophole in copyright law.

Aereo owns tens of thousands of itty-bitty antennas, each of which is about the size of coin, and each of which is rented to individual subscribers for a fee of about $8 a month. Using those tiny antennas, Aereo captures free, over-the-air broadcast signals and saves the content to the “cloud.” Paying customers stream that content through an Internet connection on demand. Aereo argued that since it operated differently than other cable and satellite companies, it did not have to pay broadcasters so-called “retrans fees” to deliver their channels to customers. Aereo said it was simply helping customers to snatch broadcast signals from the public airwaves, which, it argued, is a “private performance” under the Copyright Act.

Aereo’s business model was based on the premise that it’s legal for anyone to purchase an antenna, put it on the roof, capture local broadcast signals, and then watch those available stations for free. In the 1980′s, the Supreme Court also decided that it’s legal to record the broadcast signals captured through an antennae using equipment like VCRs. So long as consumer are not recording those broadcast signals to play during a “public performance,” such recording is legal, according to past court decisions.

In this case, which came before the Supreme Court in April, Aereo’s lawyer David C. Frederick argued that the company was not “performing” at all. He described Aereo as nothing more than an “equipment provider.”

In a dissenting opinon, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito agreed with Aereo. Scalia wrote in dissent that Aereo’s business model does not constitute a “performance” at all, within the meaning of the Copyright Act.

But the majority decided that Aereo—a commercial enterprise with paying customers—was legally different than an individual capturing those signals with his or her own antenna and saving them onto a physical DVR.

The decision sides with the broadcasters, which were backed by the Department of Justice. They argued that Aereo’s business model was obviously designed to exploit a loophole in the Copyright Act. ABC’s lawyer Paul D. Clement argued that by capturing copyrighted television programming and then transmitting it back to thousands, or tens of thousands, of users, Aereo is acting exactly like a cable company and should pay retransmission fees.

The decision could have implications for cloud computing, including popular applications like Dropbox or iCloud, which allow customers to save files, including movies and TV shows, onto the “cloud” and then access them again at anytime with an Internet connection.

Aereo’s lawyers argued that if the Court determined that when someone plays back a file he or she saved on the cloud that constitutes a “public performance,” then that would put cloud computing companies, like Dropbox or iCloud, in a difficult position. Aereo argued that if cloud computing companies can be held responsible for determining if their clients originally purchased their files legally, then that would open them up to potentially fatal litigation.

In a statement following the decision, Aereo founder Kanojia said it was “troubling” that the Court explicitly said that if companies “are concerned with the relationship between the development and use of such technologies and the Copyright Act, they are of course free to seek action from Congress.’” Kanojia suggested that statement could lay the groundwork for “a permission-based system for technology innovation.”

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