Director of Litigation
Pacific Legal Foundation
PLF Unveils “Top Five Cases to Watch: Supreme Court 2012”
Sacramento, CA; December 29, 2011: On the cusp of the New Year, Pacific Legal Foundation today released its list of the “Top Five Cases Confronting the United States Supreme Court in 2012.”
The Supreme Court’s 2011-2012 term is shaping up to be one of the liveliest in recent history. The Court has already agreed to hear a number of cases that could yield landmark decisions affecting the lives of millions of Americans. The justices will also be deciding whether to accept other high-profile cases with broad potential impact.
Here are PLF’s picks for the Top Five Cases to Watch in 2012. PLF is involved in all of them, either representing a party, or as amicus curiae (“friend of the court”):
- Florida v. Department of Health & Human Services
- Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency
- Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin
- Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center
- California Grocers Association v. City of Los Angeles
At the very top of the list are two cases that the Supreme Court has already accepted: the Florida challenge to key provisions of the new federal health care law (in which PLF will file as amicus curiae), and Sackett v. EPA, in which PLF attorneys represent the petitioners, Mike and Chantell Sackett.
The last three cases, which also have potential to set important precedents, are currently before the Court on petitions for certiorari; the Court is expected to announce early in the year whether it will accept these cases.
1. Florida v. Department of Health & Human Services:
PLF is representing itself and other organizations as amicus curiae in support of the State of Florida, et al.
Contact: Timothy Sandefur
In the Florida case, arguably the most critical issue deals with the Individual Mandate, that portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires most individuals who are not covered by an employer to purchase a government-prescribed health care plan, at the risk of significant fines imposed by the IRS. The key question is whether the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which grants Congress the power “to regulate commerce . . . among the several states,” encompasses the power to require individuals to buy a good or service from a private company.
2. Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency:
PLF attorneys represent the petitioners, Mike and Chantell Sackett.
Contact: Damien M. Schiff
Acknowledged by Bloomberg News as one of the most important cases this term, the Sackett case asks whether a property owner has a right to meaningful judicial review of an EPA Compliance Order that designates the property as “wetlands” subject to federal jurisdiction. Compliance Orders are very onerous, and mandate specific activities that a landowner must carry out at great cost, and at the risk of significant fines or even criminal prosecution should the order be ignored. For several decades, EPA has used Compliance Orders to coerce landowners into submitting to its demands, because landowners have no opportunity to challenge the underlying “wetlands” designation, and EPA is not required to offer proof. Oral argument is scheduled for January 9.
3. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin:
PLF is representing itself and other organizations as amicus curiae in support of the petition asking the Supreme Court to hear this case.
Contact: Sharon L. Browne
In Fisher, an applicant denied admission to the University of Texas is challenging the university’s policy of counting applicants’ race as a factor in admissions. At issue in this case is whether the Court will continue to validate the pursuit of “diversity” as a justification for the use of race in making admissions decisions at public universities. The Court has announced that it will consider whether to take this case at its conference on January 13.
4. Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center:
PLF is representing other organizations as amicus curiae, asking the Supreme Court to hear this case.
Contact: Daniel A. Himebaugh
For over 35 years, the EPA has specifically exempted roadside ditches and culverts in forests from Clean Water Act permitting requirements, contending that rainwater running off of forest roads is not a “discharge of a pollutant” and that ditches and culverts do not constitute “point sources” of pollution, comparable to industrial waste pipes. Nevertheless, an environmental group sued Oregon officials and timber property owners, alleging that they need to apply for costly and time-consuming “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System” (NPDES) permits for rainwater runoff that results from the building of forest roads. Despite the EPA’s longstanding position, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held for the plaintiffs. Oregon officials and timber operators are now asking the Supreme Court to overturn this decision. On December 12, the Court asked the U.S. Solicitor General to file a brief stating the position of the United States on this question of federal law.
5. California Grocers Association v. City of Los Angeles:
Representing the California Grocers Association, PLF has filed a petition for certiorari asking the Supreme Court to take this case.
Contact: Timothy Sandefur
In the negotiations between labor unions and management, federal law requires that the bargaining must be carried out on a level playing field, without government “placing its thumb on the scale” to tilt the bargaining advantage to one side or the other. In this case, the City of Los Angeles enacted an ordinance that requires purchasers of any existing grocery store larger than 15,000-square feet to retain current employees for 90 days. The owner is not permitted to replace these workers with his own employees, and may discharge an employee only for cause. However, the owner may “opt-out” of this retention requirement by entering into a collective bargaining agreement with a union. While California’s lower courts overturned the ordinance as violating federal labor law, the California Supreme Court upheld it. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether it will review PLF’s case in early 2012.
In addition to these “Top Five” cases, PLF is involved in many other cases before the Supreme Court that address critical constitutional and federal law issues that affect all Americans. Further information, including videos, eBooks, news stories, and briefs, may be accessed on PLF’s website. Interested parties can also stay informed by subscribing to PLF e-mails or following PLF on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and the PLF Liberty Blog.
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation (www.pacificlegal.org) is the leading legal watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, individual rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations, in courts nationwide.