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Another Busy Term for the U.S Chamber of Commerce

October 6, 2014

This week marks the start of the Supreme Court’s new Term.  While observers are likely to focus their attention on cases this week addressing constitutional protections during traffic stops (Heien v. North Carolina) and the scope of religious freedom under a key federal law (Holt v. Hobbs), the Court will also hear argument in a pair of cases attracting friend-of-the-Court briefs from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co. v. Owens and Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk.  These arguments follow on the heels of the Court’s decision last week to grant review, at the Chamber’s urging, in an important Fair Housing Act case—Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.

Over the last three Terms, the Chamber has had a sterling track record before the Roberts Court, winning 80% of its cases.  Furthermore, since Justice Samuel Alito succeeded Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Court in early 2006, the Chamber has won 70% of its cases overall (85 wins and 36 losses), compared with only 43% during the late Burger Court (15 of 35 from 1981-1986) and 56% during the stable Rehnquist Court (45 of 80 from 1994-2005).

All told, the Chamber is involved in twelve cases so far this Term—roughly a quarter of the cases on the Court’s docket to date.  These cases run the gamut, from allegations of fraud during the Iraq War by Kellogg Brown & Root (Kellogg Brown & Root Services v. United States ex rel. Carter) to the procedures that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must follow when pursuing anti-discrimination claims (Mach Mining v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) to the future of disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act (Inclusive Communities).

Turning to this week’s action, the Court’s business docket kicks off on Tuesday morning with argument in Dart Cherokee.  While the actual dispute between the parties is mainly about money (involving royalty payments under oil and gas leases), the underlying legal issue represents a sustained priority for the Chamber—working to ease the way for defendants (often businesses) to use the Class Action Fairness Act (a federal law) to move large class action lawsuits from state courts to federal courts, perhaps because these defendants view federal courts as more defendant-friendly than their state counterparts.

The Court will then hear argument on Wednesday morning in Integrity Staffing Solutions.  The facts are easy enough to understand.  Integrity Staffing Solutions provides Amazon.com with warehouse workers who help fill customers’ online orders.  After clocking out each day, these workers are then required to stand in line and go through a security screening before exiting the plant, a measure designed to prevent employee theft.  In the case before the Court, workers allege that this screening process can take up to 25 minutes per day, that they’re not paid for this additional time, and that federal labor law requires that they be paid for it—a position supported by the AFL-CIO.  In a friend-of-the-Court brief, the Chamber disagrees.

So far, the Court’s business docket is bereft of genuine blockbusters.  Nevertheless, as the Supreme Court enters its 10th Term with Chief Justice Roberts at the helm, the question remains:  will the Chamber continue its winning ways?