Breaking News

Court rules on self-representation; 4 workers’ rights decisions

The Supreme Court ruled by a 7-2 vote on Thursday that a state may require a criminal defendant who suffers from a mental illness to have a lawyer, rather than allowing the individual to act as his own defense counsel, even when the individual is competent enough to be tried.  The decision came in Indiana v. Edwards (07-208).

This was one of five decisions on the merits released this morning; all of the other four settled issues involving workers’ rights. The Court will next issue decisions on Monday, and may have at least one other decision day next week.  Ten cases remain to be decided, including major disputes on gun rights, a massive oil spill in Alaska, and the death penalty for the crime of child rape.

In the decisions on workplace issues, these were the results, in summary:

** Federal labor law bars a state from curbing the rights of employers to speak out about labor union organizing by their workers. A California law imposing limits on employer speech when the companies are using state funds for that kind of message is preempted by federal labor law. The vote was 7-2 in Chamber of Commerce v. Brown (06-939).

** In a case involving a claim of age bias in the workplace, the employer not the employee has the burden of providing evidence on the issue of whether an employment action was done for reasons other than age.  The Court decided Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (06-1505) by a vote of 7-1, with the dissent only a partial one.  One Justice did not take part: Stephen G. Breyer.

** A pension system does not discriminate illegally against older workers who become disabled after becoming eligible for retirement, when eligibility depends on the worker’s age. The ruling split the Court 5-4 in Kentucky Retirement System v. EEOC (06-1037).

** The administrator of an employee benefit plan has a conflict of interest if allowed to perform the dual role of evaluating claims and paying them. The 6-3 ruling came in MetLife v. Glenn (06-923).