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5 Overlooked Cases From SCOTUS' 2014 Term

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

It's been a long and historical term for the Supreme Court. The High Court has issued momentous rulings upholding Obamacare, recognizing a constitutional right to marriage equality, expanding anti-discrimination law, and knocking down environmental regulations. Oh, and it ruled that fish weren't tangible objects, at least not the kind that the corporate-focused Sarbanes-Oxley Act had in mind when prohibiting evidence destruction.

As always, many important rulings didn't make major headlines. Here are three cases that deserve more attention than they got, both for their immediate impact and what they might tell us about future decisions.

Watch out Lawyers, You Could End up Like Dentists

To many lawyers, regulatory law is about as exciting as, well, dentistry. But a recent SCOTUS case could have significant implications for state bars and other professional regulatory associations. In North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC, the Supreme Court ruled narrowly that the dental board acted as a trade group, not a state agency, when banning cheap teeth whitening procedures by non-dentists. Using the power of a professional association to exclude competition from the market? Lawyers would never do such a thing!

Employers Have Rights ... to Slow Down the EEOC

The big employment law decision of the term was EEOC v. Abercrombie and Fitch. But employers should take note of Mach Mining v. EEOC as well. In Mach, the Court ruled unanimously that the EEOC must attempt to solve a violation through informal means before bringing a suit. There's no surprise there. What matters in Mach is that courts can now review those efforts to see if they satisfied the conciliation requirement before an EEOC suit can go forward.

Teachers May Report Crime, but They're Not Cops

When the Court took up Ohio v. Clark, many educators worried that the Supreme Court might soon consider them agents of law enforcement. Many states, including Ohio, mandate that teachers report suspected abuse, given their proximity and familiarity with children. 

Clark had argued that statements made by a three-year-old child to his teachers, and later introduced at trial, were made as part of a law enforcement effort. The Court rejected this argument, ruling that the statements did not violate the Confrontation Clause. Scalia and Ginsburg, besties for life, joined on a concurrence to emphasize that, three year olds aside, the Confrontation Clause still matters.

A Ban on Campaign Finance Law Is Upheld

If you want to keep money out of politics, the Roberts Court isn't on your side -- usually. In a surprise switch, the Chief Justice joined the slim majority upholding Florida's ban on personal solicitation of campaign funds by judges. The Roberts court has struck down campaign finance restrictions over and over again, Citizens United being just one example. Some reformers are hopeful that Roberts' switch may signify a larger shift, though I'm not sure I'd put my money on it.

Kennedy Upholds Disparate Impact Claims

Justice Kennedy, while nominally supporting affirmative action and anti-discrimination programs, often votes against them. In the Court's Fair Housing Act case, which preserved the long established use of disparate impact to support housing discrimination claims, Kennedy sided with the majority. This was, like Roberts, a surprise move. Does it give any clue to how he might rule in Fisher v. University of Texas, next term's affirmative action in college admission case?

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