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What to Expect From SCOTUS in February

By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 29, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If the U.S. Supreme Court were like the Moon, we could predict with precise accuracy where it was going because of the laws of gravity.

But the justices tug and pull in unpredictable ways sometimes, and they don't always follow the law. Sometimes, they make it.

That opportunity will roll around again in late February. That's not a prediction; it's just that some pivotal cases are on the docket involving public employees, privacy, and political insignia.

Labor Unions

One case, Janus v. American Federation, is gaining more momentum as arguments heat up for Feb. 26. Observers see it as a chance for the Court to overrule a 40-year-old precedent that affects public employees.

Police, fire fighters, teachers, and other public workers are challenging an Illinois law that requires them to pay union fees even if they don't belong. In Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court rejected a similar constitutional challenge.

Since then, public employees have asked the Court three times to reverse its 1977 precedent and strike down the "fair share" fees. If the workers are successful this time, it could significantly undercut union power.

Scores of states and other organizations have filed amicus briefs in the case. Daniel DiSalvo, a labor expert, predicts public employee unions could lose up to 30 percent of their membership and financing over time.

Then There Was One

At the other end of the docket, Fane Lozman will continue his battle with Riviera Beach. He sued the city council for having him arrested during a public comment session.

It is not his first rodeo in the Supreme Court. He won a majority decision against the city in 2013 over his floating home in the Florida community.

The city siezed and destroyed it under martime lien laws. But the Supreme Court said not every floating structure is a "vessel" in Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida.

"To state the obvious, a wooden washtub, a plastic dishpan, a swimming platform on pontoons, a large fishing net, a door taken off its hinges, or Pinocchio (when inside the whale) are not 'vessels,' even if they are 'artificial contrivance[s]' capable of floating, moving under tow, and incidentally carrying even a fair-sized item or two when they do so," the Court said.

For the latest Supreme Court news, subscribe to FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Newsletter.

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