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A Review of the Supreme Court's 2011 - 2012 Term

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July 12, 2012

As the United States Supreme Court’s 2011-2012 term drew to a close at the end of June, the Court’s decision upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act (PPACA or the Act) dominated media coverage.  Unquestionably, this decision delivered a historic victory to President Barack Obama’s administration and requires that employers now turn their full attention to complying with the law. 

Partly as a result of the health care decision, commentators had differing views of the term.  While the Roberts Court continues to be viewed as generally pro-business, some observers argued that this term marked a “radical” shift to the right by the Court, while others opined that the term was relatively favorable for progressives.  In the employment arena, however, the results were more readily apparent.  Indeed, with the notable exception of health care, every major Court ruling directly addressing employment issues was favorable to employers.  The seven major employment-related decisions issued by the Court this term include:

  • One health care case (Sebelius)
  • One case on FLSA exemptions (Christopher)
  • One case on religious institutions (Hosanna-Tabor)
  • Three public employee cases (Coleman, Knox, and Elgin)
  • One immigration case (Arizona)

As in the past, many of the Court’s employment decisions split along ideological lines.  Although Justice Kennedy—seen as the key swing vote—had an overall balanced voting record this term, he tended to side with the conservative bloc more consistently in employment decisions.  It would be premature to conclude that the Court’s decisions this term suggest a pro-employer trend, particularly in light of the relatively balanced outcome in the employment area during the last term.  The decisions of this term do suggest, however, that the Roberts Court continues to be sympathetic to employer positions. 

View the entire Review of the Supreme Court's 2011 - 2012 Term.

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