The “sleeper case” of the 2013 Term: Harris v. Quinn and the future of unions

Hobby Lobby is all the rage. We get it. Religious freedom, women’s rights, and the all-too-frequently heard “Corporations are people too” will be conversation fodder for the rest of the summer. If you really want to sound smart though, you’re going to want to tell your friends that Harris v. Quinn was the sleeper case of the 2013 term. Public-sector unions are *almost* dead. Here’s what you need to know:

5-cent explanation: The question in this case was – Can public-sector, home-health care workers in Illinois who serve Medicaid recipients be forced to pay union fees even if they choose to not be a part of the union? Continue reading

On ABC v. Aereo

5-cent explanation:  Does Brooklyn, NY-based Aereo violate copyright laws when they provide equipment, at a cost of roughly $8 a month, to get local stations routed to consumers computers, tablets, or phones, to record and play programming on a cloud-based server?

10-cent explanation:  Aereo might be on to something – A la carte programming that saves viewers hundreds of dollars by abandoning packages and contracts with the majors cable companies.  Since this case first ignited attention in January, studies revealing people tend to only watch 7-8 channels out of the hundreds they’re offered through their cable companies have raised eyebrows.  Wise to this reality, young people in particular have cut ties with their cable providers opting instead for Apple TVs, Rokus, Slingboxes and now Aereo.   Continue reading

On police searches of cell phones and the 4th Amendment: Riley v. CA & U.S. v. Wurie

5-cent explanation: Can police search the contents of an arrestee’s cell phone (text messages, pictures, videos, call records, etc.) during routine traffic stops?

10-cent explanation: Two cases, both related to the searches of cell phones – one involved a flip phone, the other a smart phone – were argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on April 29, 2014 that questioned whether police could look inside the contents of a person’s phone without a warrant.

David Riley and Brima Wurie of California and Boston, respectively, both were found guilty on felony charges after evidence taken from their cellular phones was linked to criminal activity.  Wurie’s case is a bit different in that her phone was not a smart phone but a flip phone.  Her call records led police to find pounds of illegal drugs in her home, which were taken without a warrant and used against her in court. Riley is the case getting the most attention in that his phone was a smart phone commonly used by people today. Continue reading

On 1st Amendment free speech protests against Presidents: Wood v. Moss

Questions in this case and 5-cent rundown: Did two Secret Service agents – Tim Wood and Rob Savage — violate Michael Moss’ 1st Amendment rights when they forcibly moved him and a group of anti-George W. Bush protesters, but not a group of pro-Bush demonstrators, away from a restaurant where the president was dining? Second, should the agents be protected from such a lawsuit, which could result in having to pay damages, as a result of the “qualified immunity” status given to Secret Service who are tasked with protecting presidents?


10-cent explanation:  In the fall of 2004, shortly before the Bush-Kerry presidential election, George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush decided to dine at the Jacksonville Inn in Jacksonville, Oregon. Continue reading

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

5-Cent Explanation:

The issue in the case is whether a for-profit business can claim free exercise of
religion as an exemption to a law mandating employers provide their employees
with contraception coverage.

10-Cent Explanation:

Signed into law in 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act contains a
provision mandating any business employing 50 or more people to provide health
insurance to those employees. The act requires that pre- and post-contraceptive
benefits also be provided under the penalty of severe fines to the employer for
each employee not afforded the sanctioned coverage. Continue reading

On payback for victims of child pornography (Paroline v. U.S.)

We hate that we’re covering this case, as the matter is a highly disturbing topic – restitution for the victims of child pornography.  Full disclosure: We work for kids.  They’re our “clients,” if you will, as we are educators.  No teacher treads lightly or indiscriminately through a case involving sexual abuse of children.  We’re guessing no human does, either.  In the SCOTUS (January 22, 2014) was a case involving such abuse, Paroline v. U.S.  Despite its unsettling nature, we see this case as having potential for “teachable moments” to young adults in law classes.

5-cent explanation:  Doyle Paroline was found guilty of accessing two pictures of a victim of child pornography known as “Amy Unknown.”  Amy was eight years old when her uncle took sexually explicit pictures of her.  In 1994, Congress passed a law mandating the victims of child pornography be paid the full amount of their losses from anyone found guilty of possessing their images.  A lower court ordered Paroline pay Amy $3.4 million dollars in restitution, or money for a loss or injury.  The question before the Court is how enforcement of the law should allocate money to the victims. Continue reading

On the 4th Amendment: Police searches & anonymous tips (Navarette v. California)

Navarette v. California

Oral Argument: January 21, 2014

5-Cent Explanation:

The question raised in this case is whether the police can stop a vehicle based upon information provided by an anonymous caller alleging reckless driving that the officers did not personally observe.

10-Cent Explanation:

On August 23, 2008, after receiving what the courts are considering an anonymous 911 call about a “reckless driver” who had run him or her off the road, a police dispatcher provided information to California Highway Patrol including the color, make, model, license plate and direction of flight of the allegedly offending vehicle. Soon after, an officer and a sergeant observed a vehicle matching the description approximately 19 miles from the site of the initial encounter that had prompted the 911 call.

Although the officers had not spoken directly with the 911-caller nor had they observed any erratic or reckless driving after following him for five minutes, Continue reading