Supreme Court Calendar: 3 Cases to Watch in January 2016

Supreme Court Calendar: 3 Cases to Watch in January 2016


After a momentous 2015 that saw the Supreme Court save Obamacare (again), give same-sex couples the right to marry, and preserve the death penalty (for now), the Court’s October term moves into 2016. While the January session doesn’t appear as juicy as previous dockets, there are some cases that will no doubt have a lasting impact.

Here are three cases to watch in January 2016 as the Supreme Court closes out the October 2015 term:

1. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (January 11)

Even if teachers and other public employees don’t want to join a union, they can benefit from the union’s collective bargaining on their behalf. Therefore, the Court has previous held that public employees may be required to pay union fees, even if they have opted out of joining the union. These are called “agency shop” arrangements, whereby public employees are still represented by the union for purposes of collective bargaining, but those who opt out of union membership only an agency fee for a “fair share” of the union’s costs and unions are prohibited from spending nonmembers’ agency fees on “ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining.”

But a group of California teachers are saying that even public-sector collective bargaining is political speech and they shouldn’t be compelled them to subsidize that speech. The Supreme Court will decide whether these “agency shop” arrangements and violate the First Amendment.

2. Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle (January 13)

Is Puerto Rico part of the United States? Sort of — it is a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship, but no star on the flag or senator in Congress. Puerto Rico has its own Supreme Court, but also a U.S. District Court. So how does double jeopardy work with these two court systems?

Luis Sanchez Valle was indicted in a Puerto Rican court on gun charges, and then also indicted in a U.S. federal court based on the same facts. His lawyers argued that this was essentially charging someone twice for the same crime, violating the prohibitions on double jeopardy. The Supreme Court will decide whether Puerto Rico and the federal government are separate sovereigns for purposes of double jeopardy.

3. Heffernan v. City of Paterson (January 19)

Can public employees get demoted if their boss thinks they support a certain candidate? In this case a city police officer (Heffernan) was demoted after another officer saw him holding a campaign sign for a mayoral candidate (Spagnola) who was running against his chief’s chosen candidate (Torres). And here’s where it gets even murkier: Heffernan is friends with Spagnola, but wasn’t working with the campaign or even campaigning at the time — he was picking up the sign for his bed-ridden mother.

The Court will have to decide whether Heffernan has a valid First Amendment claim based on his boss’s incorrect perception of his “speech.”


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