By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer
The 9 justices (judges) of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), the highest court in the land, made several major decisions this week before breaking for summer recess on Monday. Whenever a case is decided at a lower court, the losing party can try to “appeal” it to have a higher court redo the final outcome, and cases that make it all the way to SCOTUS can affect the entire nation.
Since the USA’s government is a system of checks and balances between three branches – the law evaluating “judicial branch”, the lawmaking “legislative” branch, and the law enforcing “executive” branch – SCOTUS may alter the balance of power in government if a case calls for it. Last week, for example, SCOTUS ruled that presidents (part of the executive branch) cannot appoint high level government positions that require approval from the Senate (part of the legislative branch), without Senate approval, and that the Environmental Protection Agency (part of the executive branch) may not enforce pollution restrictions that go beyond what the legislative branch has decided is the legal limit
As far as major business rulings, SCOTUS ruled that unions – organizations that negotiate with employers to change wages and working conditions for employees – may not force home health care workers to pay union dues (fees). Since unions use member-generated funds to accomplish their goals, this may weaken their ability to influence employers, but some workers felt it was unfair being forced to participate financially in union activities. SCOTUS’ decision narrowly defines a category of workers who can opt out of union fees, calling this group “partial public employees”, but it doesn’t completely make it unacceptable for collection of dues from other types of workers.
A more tech-based business decision was made this past week that affected streaming TV service Aereo, who was borrowing signals from local television stations and retransmitting their content on the internet to paying subscribers. The creators of the TV shows weren’t happy about their work being hijacked and profited from without their input, and SCOTUS agreed, saying that Aereo’s service violates copyright law. See, when you make something original and want to make sure nobody steals your idea for profit, you can legally protect it through “copyright”, and SCOTUS believes Aereo was basically stealing unfairly. Speaking of mobile devices and content rights, privacy supporters were happy with SCOTUS’ decision to protect cell phones from being searched by police, unless they first get a search warrant (permission from a judge) prior to looking through an arrested person’s phone.
Featured image courtesy of Mark Fischer on Flickr. Image of cell phone cop courtesy of Mo Riza on Flickr.