What about all those dismissed cases at the Supreme Court?

December 17th, 2013

In USA Today, Richard Wolf takes note of the many cases that the Court has dismissed this term–and observes that in nearly all of them, liberals dodged several bullets.

A series of developments did away with several other noteworthy cases that offered the court’s 5-4 conservative majority opportunities to steer the law their way:

“Given the court’s makeup … you figure it’s going to go in a conservative or libertarian direction,” says Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. For that reason, he says, “these are all developments that have some people breathing a sigh of relief.”

First to go in October was an age discrimination lawsuit won in lower courts by a 55-year-old Illinois state employee who was replaced by a younger person. Since the justices usually accept cases with an eye toward reversing the prior ruling, they might have denied the man’s claim. Instead, they dismissed the case as “improvidently granted” because of technical flaws.

In November, the court dismissed what could have been a major abortion rights case after the Oklahoma Supreme Court clarified the facts — namely, that the state’s law creating a strict protocol for medication abortions would all but eliminate them. The justices decided to leave alone the state court’s decision striking down the law, rather than reconsidering the restriction.

Less than two weeks later, the justices were forced to dismiss a housing discrimination case from Mount Holly, N.J., after the town settled with low-income residents threatened by redevelopment. Civil rights groups had feared that the high court would jettison the “disparate impact” standard that lets minorities avoid having to prove intentional discrimination.

And last week, the court ditched a case from Florida that tested the legality of labor-management “neutrality agreements.” The deals are used frequently by unions to organize workers in exchange for promises not to strike. Although the union had lost at the appeals court level, labor officials doubted their chances at the Supreme Court

The most interesting quotation in the article comes from Michael McConnell, who seems to be suggesting more than he said.

It’s not clear how much influence liberals on the court or off had in getting the various cases dismissed. Michael McConnell, a conservative and former federal appeals court judge heading the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, says it would come as no surprise.

“There’s not much mystery that there are parties who are trying to avoid having significant cases with a long-term impact decided by the current composition of the court,” McConnell says.

And who are these “parties”?