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SCOTUS rules on Indiana steel plant case

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The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled on a case about a northern Indiana steel processing plant, overturning the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and effectively limiting how a federal labor-relations board is able to conduct business regarding employee and union rights.

In a split 5-4 decision today in New Process Steel v. NLRB, No 08-1457, the nation’s justices overturned a 7th Circuit decision from last year and agreed that two of a total five-person National Labor Relations Board can’t effectively handle business when all members aren’t present or the spots are vacant.

The case involves a Butler-based steel-processing plant, which was involved in a collective bargaining agreement dispute in late 2007 that set the stage for this lawsuit. At the time, the five-person board was short three members so that only two were present to conduct business – about 600 case decisions in a 27-month period. New Process was involved in a dispute with the local AFL-CIO, which was negotiating a collective bargaining agreement on behalf of the company workers. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the plant, and an administrative law judge ruled in the union’s favor. New Steel appealed to the NLRB; the only two sitting NLRB members approved the ALJ decision and ordered the plant to accept the union contract.

On appeal, the sides disputed whether the board was able to affirm the decision of the ALJ because only two members of the five-member board voted. Statute allows a smaller, three-member panel to have authority to rule on issues, and it also allows for two members to constitute a quorum if the third person is unavailable. Due to the expiration of term limits and board vacancies, the vote was made only by the two-person quorum.

The 7th Circuit affirmed the ALJ and NLRB decisions, though other courts have ruled differently and the topic is one playing out in several Circuits throughout the country. The justices accepted the case to resolve that conflict and ruled against the government.

The majority reversed and remanded the case in favor of New Steel, holding that the National Labor Relations Act requires the NLRB to maintain at least three members as quorum in order to use the authority given to it by the full board. Justice John Paul Stevens authored the majority opinion, concluding “We are not insensitive to the Board’s understandable desire to keep its doors open despite vacancies. Nor are we unaware of the costs that delay imposes on the litigants. If Congress wishes to allow the Board to decide cases with only two members, it can easily do so. But until it does, Congress’ decision to require that the Board’s full power be delegated to no fewer than three members, and to provide for a Board quorum of three, must be given practical effect rather than be swept aside in the face of admittedly difficult circumstances.”

However, Justice Anthony Kennedy dissented with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonya Sotomayor joining in disagreement.

“It is not optimal for a two-member quorum to exercise the full powers of the Board for an extended period of time,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “The Court’s revisions leave the Board defunct for extended periods of time, a result that Congress surely did not intend. The Court’s assurance that its interpretation is designed to give practical effect to the statue should bring it to the opposite result from the one it reaches.”

This ruling will likely impact multiple cases already pending nationwide – five more cases are before the SCOTUS, with 69 pending before the appellate courts. Those will likely be remanded to the NLRB, which now has four members.
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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