June 30 marks the end of the 2013 term for the Supreme Court. With just a few days left, justices are handing down verdicts on several controversial cases. Of the six major cases awaiting decisions, two have already been decided on.
Cellphone Searches (Riley v. California, US v. Wurie) – Decided
The question in this case is if the police can search a person’s cellphone even without a search warrant. Law allows police a limited search upon arrest, but only to ensure their safety and to get any evidence related to the case. For cellphones, however, the law is not clear. Police officers have long been doing searches “in the area into which he might reach.” However, this practice dates back to when cellphones were not common items that can be found in pockets.
On Wednesday, the court unanimously decided in favor of privacy rights. Therefore, police officers must first secure a warrant before they can search a person’s cellphone.
Streaming TV Online (ABC v. Aereo) – Decided
Regarding TV broadcast rights, the question is if companies can broadcast TV signals for online streaming.
Aereo, a Boston-based Internet start-up company, was streaming signals using small antennas in warehouses in order to capture TV signals and provide shows for paying customers on the web. In the past, users were able to view certain programs by subscribing to satellite and cable companies who paid retransmission fees to broadcasters. According to broadcasters, Aereo was cutting deep into their revenues.
The justices ruled in favor of TV networks 6-3. They said that Aereo was violating copyright laws by transmitting copyrighted programs without paying.
Union Power (Harris v. Quinn) – Pending
Are workers required to play union fees even if they opt out of their memberships? The decision on this issue affects labor unions. For many years now, the law states that unions are allowed to collect union dues from public or private employees that they represent. Eight home-care workers in Illinois are saying that they should not be required to join a union and pay fees, even if the union is required to represent them.
Recess Appointments (National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning) – Pending
This case concerns the legislative and executive branches and challenges President Obama’s three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board without confirming with the Senate. The President said that the Senate was in recess. However, the Senate says otherwise. The question is: When can the President make appointments when the Senate is in recess?
Birth Control Coverage (Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby) – Pending
Based on the Affordable Care Act, employers must provide health insurance including contraceptives. Religious non-profit organizations and churches, however, are except from doing so. Craft store Hobby Lobby said that they refuse to comply because of their religious beliefs. The question in this case is whether commercial businesses can be exempted from the Affordable Care Act based on their religious beliefs.
Abortion Protests (McCullen v. Coakley) – Pending
In Massachusetts, protesters must be at least 35 feet away from abortion clinics when protesting. According to Eleanor McCullen, one of the protesters, the “buffer zone” violates their First Amendment rights. Lawmakers said that the buffer zone was there to protect patients and clinic staff from violence and harassment. In January, majority of the justices were asking whether the state of Massachusetts went too far with their 35 feet buffer.
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