Supreme Court Ruling Breakdown

The Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on a number of cases with far-reaching implications. We preview this term’s most contentious cases which deal with the contraceptive mandate, free speech, and how far executive powers reach. 

Learn more about the U.S. Supreme Court cases. 

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Straw Gun Purchases

Abramski v. United States, No. 12-1493 Argued Jan. 22, 2014. Decided June 16, 2014. Vote 5-4

Petitioner Bruce Abramski offered to buy a handgun for his uncle, and when purchasing the gun, Abramski was required to fill out a form that asked whether he was the “actual transferee/buyer” of the gun. The form also stated that a straw purchaser, or someone who bought the gun on behalf of someone else, was not the actual buyer. Abramski falsely answered that he was the actual buyer and was convicted for making a false statement when purchasing the gun.

The U.S.  Supreme Court voted 5-4, with Justices Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor in favor of upholding the conviction of Abramski.

Under federal law, firearm buyers undergo background checks with the intent of keeping guns from people who may be prohibited from owning them, such as convicted felons.

“In this case, we consider how that law applies to a so-called straw purchaser—namely, a person who buys a gun on someone else’s behalf while falsely claiming it is for himself,” Kagan wrote in the opinion of the court. “We hold that such a misrepresentation is punishable under the statute, whether or not the true buyer could have purchased the gun without the straw.”

Affordable Care’s Contraceptive Mandate

Kathleen Sebelius, Sec. of Health and Human Services v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. No. 13-354; Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Kathleen Sebelius, Sec. of Health and Human Services No.13-356

Both cases challenge the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. Hobby Lobby, a nationwide arts and crafts store, states on its website that it is committed to “honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.” Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation also cites adhering to religious principles, and states on its website, “Our ethics and values are founded on the Christian principles that influence the way we do business.”

The for-profit companies argue that they have the right to exercise the freedom of religion under the Constitution and Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the contraceptive mandate violates religious freedom. Oral arguments for the cases were heard in March and the court should make a decision this month.

Recess Appointments

National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, No. 12-1281

The case is about recess appointments and examines whether the president can make a recess appointment during a recess that occurs within a session of Senate or if those appointments are limited to recesses that occur between enumerated sessions of Senate. In 2012, President Barack Obama made recess appointments to the National Labor Relations board, even though Republican legislators were holding “pro forma” sessions over the holidays in order to prevent the president from sidestepping their obstruction of his nominees.

Fraud Class Action Suits

Halliburton Co., et al Petitioners v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., fka Archdiocese of Milwaukee Supporting Fund, Inc., No 13-317

In this case, Halliburton, an oilfield services company, is pitted against a group of its shareholders. Halliburton is seeking to overturn a 1988 decision, Basic v. Levinson, which adopted the “fraud on the market theory.” This theory assumes public information about a company is known to the market and plaintiffs do not have to show they relied on a specific misrepresentation, only that they purchased shares before the truth came out. In the case against Halliburton, shareholders claimed the company understated asbestos liabilities while overstating revenues and the benefits of a merger with Dresser Industries. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide what standards must be met before such a suit is granted class action status.

Public Sector Unions

Pamela Harris, et al. Petitioners v. Pat Quinn, Governor of Illinois, et al. No. 11-681

Pamela Harris, a personal care provider, along with other providers sued the State of Illinois to stop the practice of labor unions collecting fees from workers who refuse union representation. The workers insist that having to pay the fees violates the First Amendment. A bargain struck more than a decade ago between the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Illinois-Indiana and the state requires that all providers pay compulsory fees. A district court supported compulsory fees based on a supreme court precedent while the 7th U.S. District Court of Appeals approved the decision. Backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Harris has approached the highest U.S. court.   

--Xueying Chen contributed to this report.

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