The Supreme Court is starting its new year, with Justice Neil Gorsuch on board for his first full term.
The nine justices are taking up several high-profile, difficult cases. This follows a term in which they were mostly shorthanded after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, and avoided controversial issues.
President Donald Trump tapped Gorsuch for Scalia’s seat. The new justice joined the court in April.
The term’s first argument Monday is a major clash between businesses and their employees, focused on how workers can complain about pay, conditions and other issues.
Employers want to be able to enforce a provision of millions of contracts that forces workers with complaints to go to arbitration individually, rather than in groups.
The employees say going it alone is too costly, makes it impossible to pool resources to hire a lawyer and opens them to retaliation.
Sheila Hobson, a former employee at a Murphy Oil USA gas station in Calera, Alabama, objected to taking a survey of competitors’ gas prices that she said took 30 to 90 minutes a day without pay, on her way to and from work.
“I am a very simple person, believe in right and wrong and have a passion for what I believe in,” Hobson said in a telephone news conference arranged by groups backing the employees.
She had signed an employment contract with a provision requiring any dispute to be settled in individual arbitration.
Hobson and three co-workers tried to sue the company in court, but the case was dismissed. Hobson then complained to the National Labor Relations Board, which found that the requirement for individual arbitration violates federal labor laws.
The Trump administration reversed the Obama administration’s position in support of the NLRB. The result is that government lawyers representing the Justice Department and the NLRB will oppose each other in court Monday. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she’s never seen that in nearly 25 years on the high court.
Even before the justices take the bench, the court is expected to reject hundreds of appeals that accumulated over the summer, after adding nine cases last week.
One high-profile case could disappear, at least for now. The court canceled the Oct. 10 argument over Trump’s travel ban after the president announced a new policy last week that differs from the one the justices had decided to review.
Still, many important cases remain that touch on gay rights and religious freedoms, the polarized American electorate, the government’s ability to track people without search warrants, states’ rights to allow betting on professional and college sporting events, and the ability of labor unions that represent government employees to collect “fair share” fees for contract negotiations from workers who don’t financially support the unions.