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Court to hear four appeals, plus an Original case

UPDATED to 11:40 a.m.

The Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to further clarify when a labor union may charge non-union members for a share of the national union’s expenses — in this case, the cost of lawsuits that affect the union members’ rights generally, rather than the rights of local union members (Locke v. Karass, 07-610).  The Court, among three other appeals granted, said it would decide when evidence must be barred from a criminal trial if it was found in a search based on erroneous information from an officer other than the ones who did the search – a test of the scope of the so-called “exclusionary rule.” (Herring v. U.S., 07-513).

The Court also added a case on the process by which a divorcing spouse can waive a right to the other spouse’s pension benefits under ERISA (Kennedy v. DuPont Plan Administrator, 07-636, only Question 3 was granted), and a case on the enforceability of a labor union contract that waives union members’ rights to go to court over claims of discrimination in the workplace (14 Penn Plaza v. Pyett, et al., 07-581).

The Court also took on, in a somewhat modified form, a dispute between the states of Montana and Wyoming (137 Original) over the uses of the waters of two tributaries of the Yellowstone River.  While the Court, in agreeing to let one state sue another in a case that begins in the Supreme Court rather than in a lower court, often simply votes to review the full dispute, the Justices took a different tack this time — at the suggestion of the U.S. Solicitor General.  Rather than proceed directly toward a probably years-long process of gathering evidence and then deciding the competing water rights issues, the Court on Tuesday allowed Montana to sue but then told Wyoming to file a motion to dismiss Montana’s lawsuit.  That, according to the Solicitor General, will allow the Court first to resolve a series of underlying legal issues that could aid the Court in resolving the ultimate question over water rights.  Wyoming has 45 days to file that motion, according to Tuesday’s order.  Montana will then have 30 days to respond.  The Court had asked the Solicitor General for the government’s  views on the dispute.

Among the more significant cases the Court refused to hear was an appeal by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to revive its lawsuit — dismissed by a federal appeals court — challenging the Bush Administration’s no-warrant program of electronic eavesdropping of global telephone calls and e-mails when that monitoring reaches inside the U.S. (ACLU v. National Security Agency, 07-468).  A Sixth Circuit Court majority ruled that the groups and individuals who filed the challenge could not sue because they could not show that they had been wiretapped unless they had access to information that was beyond their reach because protected by the government’s “state secrets privilege.”

The Court invited the U.S. Solicitor General to offer the federal government’s views on three new cases, including one that seeks clarification of the power of U.S. courts to order a seizure of the assets in the U.S. of a foreign government accused of aiding terrorism, with the assets to be used to pay off a debt owed in the U.S. (Iran Defense Ministry v. Elahi, 07-615). The other two cases are variations on the question of the authority of a U.S. court to bar a company that loses a case and pays a money judgment from suing overseas to try to undo that judgment. The cases are Goss International Corp. v. TKS (07-618) and PT Pertamina v. Karaha Bodas Co. (07-619).  There is no deadline for the Solicitor General to respond.

Among cases the Court refused to hear were these:

** Claims by Louisiana victims of Hurricane Katrina that they had been wrongly denied insurance coverage of their losses; the issue was whether a federal court, before rejecting the claims, should have sought advice from state courts on the meaning of Louisiana state insurance law.  (Xavier University v. Travelers Casualty, 07-711, and Chehardy v. Allstate Indemnity, 07-713).

** An appeal by Fort Motor Co. contending that the cities of Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., unconstitutionally tax 100 percent of its wholesale sales of vehicles in those cities, even though a good deal of the wholesale activity actually occurs outside those cities. (Ford v. Seattle and Tacoma, 07-623).

** An appeal that asked the Court, for the first time, to spell out which members of a church staff are covered by federal and state laws on employment rights.  The appeal by the Roman Catholic leadership in Washington, D.C., sought clarification of the so-called “ministerial exception” to employment laws. The specific case involved a church organist who claimed that he was fired illegally. (Archdiocese of Washington v. Moersen, 07-323).