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Constitutional Law

Highlights from the Most Recent Round of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decisions 2014:

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., No. 13-354, effectively expanding constitutional rights (including religious) to corporations as persons, the Court held that the provision of the Affordable Care Act violated the religious freedoms of closely held corporations like Hobby Loby because the Act required the company to pay for insurance coverage for contraception.

Brown v. Armstrong, No. 13 – 1056, turning down a 9th Circuit order requiring California State officials are responsible for ensuring that prisoners with a disability are provided with “reasonable accommodations” as required under the Americans With Disabilities Act, regardless of whether they are held in a county jail. So the State must ensure compliance with Federal law by all state officials, even county.

EPA v. Homer City: upholding the Environmental Protection Agency’s cross-state air pollution rule, meaning that the EPA has discretion to take costs into account when it decides how to proceed, and thus, the EPA has authority to take steps to reduce deaths in one state by setting environmental regulations in another.

Greece v. Galloway, 12-696: held that prayer at city counsel meetings and other such government-sponsored meetings do not violate the 1st Amendment’s ban on establishment of religion by opening their meetings with with overtly Christian prayers.

Harris v. Quinn: held that hundreds of thousands of home health care workers cannot be compelled under state laws to pay dues to unions and cannot be required to pay union dues if they object. Although this holding could have been more broad, it appears that if a similar issue were to be reviewed by the current make up of this Court it would legislate the “right to work” and pull the financial rug out from under unions.

NLRB v. Noel Canning: held that appointments made by President Obama in 2012 to the National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional “recess” appointmnets since the Senate was conducting “pro forma sessions” (i.e. opening and adjourning every Tuesday and Friday)

Lane v. Franks: held that 1st Amendment “protects a public employee who provided truthful sworn testimony, compelled by subpoena, outside the course of his ordinary job responsibilities,” and thus, he could sue his employer for wrongful termination that came upon him due to exercising his 1st Amendment rights.

Riley v. California: held that police CANNOT search our cell phone upon an arrest without a warrant. What must the police do when they want to search a cellphone in connection with an arrest? “Get a warrant,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts, who also wrote that one a driving force behind the American Revolution was revulsion against “general warrants” that “allowed British officers to rummage through homes in an unrestrained search for evidence of criminal activity.” No more, holds this opinion, which leads some observers to conclude that the broad surveillance currently conducted by the NSA is likewise unconstitutional on its face. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand,” Roberts wrote, “does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the founders fought.”


Supreme Court Decisions That Led to Corporate “Persons”

Despite the fact that the Constitution was written by “we the people” for people like “ourselves,” and the fact that a “corporation” is never mentioned therein, the U.S. Supreme Court has recently solidified its belief (by one vote) that an inanimate company is a “person.” Here’s how it happened in a nutshell:

Bank of the United States v. Deveaux (1989): held that corporations are not people and must sue in federal court unless all shareholders lived in the same state.

Louisville, Cincinnati, and Charleston Railroad v. Letson (1844): held that corporations are “citizens” of the state of their incorporation, but still, all shareholders had to live in the same state to be sued in federal court.

Marshall v. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (1853): held that corporations are citizens only for the purposes of court jurisdiction, but still didn’t have the same constitutional rights as flesh and blood people, making it more feasible for corporations to be sued in federal courts.

County of Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886): the Court indicates in notes that a corporation is entitled to equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment.

Smyth v. Ames (1989): holding that a state cannot take a corporation’s property without due process, recognizing 14th Amendment equal protection rights to corporations (later overturned in Federal Power Commission v. Hope Natural Gas (1944)).

Hale v. Henkel (1906): held that corporations are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures under the 4th Amendment.

Russian Volunteer Fleet v. United States (1931): held that corporations are protected from unlawful searches and seizures under the 5th Amendment (i.e. guarantee of fair legal treatment).

United States v. Martin Linen Supply Co. (1977): held that corporations are also protected by the Constitutional protection against double jeopardy.

Citizens United v. FEC (2010): held that just as people’s ability to donate to campaigns is a form of protected free speech (Buckley v. Valeo), corporations also have the same Constitutional protections, thus, a corporation’s ‘free speech’ of campaign donations cannot be limited.

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014): held (effectively) that corporations are legal people with the right to freedom of religion just as they have the right to freedom of speech.