Ready or Not, U.S. Supreme Court’s Close-Up

The U.S. Supreme Court was dragged into the internet age this week, when a covert two-minute video was posted online showing a protester being hauled away by police.

In what must surely be an embarrassment to the leading “democracy” of the world, it is thought to be the first video of the proceedings of America’s highest court

Unlike the other branches of government, the Court unilaterally refuses to allow electronic devises, including cameras, into the courtroom.

Televising coverage of the Court is important in the context of employment law because a pro-business majority of the Court has issued a series of rulings in recent years scaling back the ability of workers to assert their right to be free from discrimination and abuse in the workplace. It is unclear whether most Americans are even aware of this because they get their news from television. A Gallup poll in 2013 found that television is the main place Americans say they turn to for news about current events (55%), leading the Internet, at 21%. Nine percent say newspapers or other print publications are their main news source, followed by radio, at 6%.

The two-minute video was posted Thursday on the website of 99rise.org, a group that describes itself  a network of activists and organizers dedicated to building a mass movement to reclaim our democracy from the domination of big money.

The video features a protester rising during oral arguments on a patent case to denounce the Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which held  it is unconstitutional to ban free speech through the limitation of independent communications by corporations, associations, and unions.

“I rise on behalf of the vast majority of the American people who believe money is not speech, corporations are not people, and government should not be for sale to the highest bidder,” stated the protester, Noah “Kai” Newkirk, a co-founder of 99 Rise.

The protest occurred on Feb. 26 toward the end of arguments on a case involving patent attorneys’ fees, not campaign finance.  An unidentified person seated near Newkirk in the courtroom took the video, which is shaky and of poor quality. Reportedly, several audience members had “cameras” – probably cell phones.

Newkirk said he has pleaded not guilty to a charge of violating a federal law that prohibits “loud threatening or abusive language” in the Supreme Court building.

NLRB Abandons Poster Rule

Given the hostile climate toward employee rights in federal courts, it is not surprising that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has abandoned its efforts to require employers to post a notification informing workers of their rights to join together to improve their working conditions.

The NLRB announced this week that it will not file an appeal in the pro-business  U.S. Supreme Court to overturn two federal court decisions rejecting  the so-called poster rule.

The NLRB wanted private-sector employers to hang a poster in a conspicuous place (i.e. lunch room) informing workers of their rights under the 75-year-old National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Many American workers today, especially recent immigrants, are ignorant of their rights under the NLRA. The poster rule is also important for non-union workers who lack a designated bargaining representative. The NLRA can come into play in non-union workplaces when, for example, an employer fires a non-union worker for discussing a safety concern with a co-worker.

It is ironic that most private-sector employers already are required by federal law to post documents in the workplace informing workers of  their rights under Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, equal employment opportunity laws, etc.

The poster rule elicited immediate opposition from a broad coalition of national business groups after it was approved by the NLRB in 2011.

Twenty-one Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives joined with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce  to oppose the poster rule, including John Kline (R-Minn.) chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in South Carolina  ruled  last summer that the NLRB lacks the authority to require employers to post notices either electronically or physically in a conspicuous place. The court said “ we find no indication in the plain language of the Act that Congress intended to grant the Board the authority to promulgate such a requirement.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit earlier ruled that the poster rule violate employers’ free speech rights.

Here are the rights that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has worked so diligently to insure that American workers do not know they possess under the NLRA:

  •  Workers can organize a union to negotiate with employers concerning wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.
  • Workers can form, join or assist a union.
  • Workers can bargain collectively through representatives of employees’ own choosing for a contract setting wages, benefits, hours, and other working conditions.
  • Workers can discuss terms and conditions of employment or union organizing with co-workers or a union.
  • Workers can engage in protected concerted activities with one or more co-workers to improve wages, benefits and other working conditions.
  •  Workers can choose not to do any of these activities, including joining or remaining a member of a union.

 

Roberts Tells Congress to Set Aside Politics?

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has called on Congress to set aside politics when it comes to funding the federal courts.

Oh, the irony.

In his year end report, he wrote, “The United States courts owe their preeminence in no small measure to statesmen who have supported a strong, independent, and impartial judiciary as an essential element of just government and the rule of law.”

This from a Supreme Court justice who is considered to be the most pro-business, anti-worker justice since World War II.

One cannot help but wonder how the Court hopes to rally public support when it has consistently refused to allow its proceedings to be televised and has provided virtually no leadership to encourage the use social media and internet technology to  better serve the public.  The Roberts’  court has done little, if anything,  to help the public understand the importance of the judiciary is a democratic society.

The U.S. Supreme Court who?

A suggestion for Congress  – this might be a good time to encourage the Court to open its doors to television cameras.

Moreover, the Roberts’ court appears to be terribly, woefully and sadly out of touch with the masses, tuning out the little folk who pay federal judges’ hefty salaries while providing a megaphone to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Roberts is seeking $7 billion appropriation in 2014, which compares to $6.97 billion allocated last year (reduced by about  $300 million  by sequestration, after Congress gave the courts an additional $51 million in October). The Court has passed along budget cuts to federal public defender offices, clerks,  parole and probation officers.

The business of federal courts appears to be down overall.  Filings in  civil and criminal cases grew by 1 percent in 2013 but  filings in appeals courts dropped by 2 percent; filings in the Supreme Court dropped by 2.6 percent; and, filings in bankruptcy courts dropped by 12 percent.

One reason for the decline may be that  victims  of employment discrimination are foregoing the use of federal courts because of the hostility of federal judges to job discrimination claims.

A 2013 article in The Minnesota Law Review reviews some 2,000 U.S. Supreme Court decisions and ranked the 36 justices who served on the court from 1946 to 2011 by the proportion of their pro-business votes.

Roberts  and Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., both appointed by GOP President George W. Bush, are the most likely to vote in favor of business interests of any of the 36 justices who has served since 1946.  And three other current conservative justices are in the top ten of most pro-business justices since 1946.  They are Justices Clarence M. Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy.

Also on the Court are Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia M. Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, all appointed by Democratic presidents.

The study was prepared by Lee Epstein, a law professor at the University of Southern California; William M. Landes, an economist at the University of Chicago; and Judge Richard A. Posner, of the federal appeals court in Chicago, who teaches law at the University of Chicago.

 

America’s Third World Court

US Supreme Ct Insists on Obscurity

United States: The leader of the federal court system of the world’s greatest democracy, the U.S. Supreme Court, refuses to allow its proceedings to be televised.  Television is an archaic technology that dates back to the 1920s. . Refusing to be televised is akin to insisting in 1440 that the bible be pen8037-25ned by monks in ink, longhand, rather than  using the newfangled Gutenberg printing press. Our high court’s annual rulings are initially handed out on paper by the court’s public relations staff and then posted on its web site.

Meanwhile …

Victoria, Australia: The Supreme Court of Victoria this month  announced a plan to launch several new technology initiatives.  Here are some of its goals:

  • The Court will become fully paperless by 2016.
  • It is recruiting retired judges to blog for the court.
  • The court is  developing an interactive website. Viewers can watch Video on Demand, download judgment summaries and judgments, leave comments on the Supreme Court News website, and participate in an Internet Forum.
  • The Court just launched a Facebook page last week and already has a Twitter feed with nearly 2500 followers.
  • The Court plans to look at other social media opportunities such as LinkedIn.

According to the Hon. Marilyn Warren, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria:

“It’s about openness so the community can see and know what we do in the courts, it’s also a way for the courts to make sure that the community are appropriately informed of what happens in court, the reality about the cases, not the story in the media that the editors want to put out, the community can read that, but they should know the actual facts.”

Moreover, Judge Warren notes that at one time the print media assigned skilled legal affairs reporters to cover the courts but in this era of cutbacks there are fewer and fewer court reporters to inform the public about the court’s proceedings. “The opportunity for the public to see what the courts do unmediated by journalists and editors may go a long way towards educating the public about the role of the judiciary. It is also a way of reaching younger generations,” she added.

Fortunately, some state courts in the United States are slightly more progressive than the U.S. Supreme Court.  According to a survey by the Conference of Court  Public Information Officers, almost 12 percent of state courts at least use Facebook.