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A Review of the Supreme Court’s 2016-2017 Term

Labor & Employment Publications

This year’s Supreme Court term may be more memorable for the intrigue and political drama taking place outside the Court than the import of the decisions the Court issued. On April 10, 2017, Judge Neil Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was sworn in as the 113th Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Gorsuch’s elevation followed a year of partisan battles in the U.S. Senate over whether to consider then-President Obama’s nominee for the high court following Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death on February 2016.

The ultimate decision to leave Justice Scalia’s seat vacant until after the 2016 presidential election means that the Court will continue to have a solid conservative majority for the foreseeable future. Although Justice Gorsuch did not rule on any of the key employment cases this term, as a reliable conservative, his record on the Tenth Circuit strongly indicates he will vote similarly to how Justice Scalia would have voted on many issues.

While high drama played out in the halls of Congress and the voting booths, the Supreme Court’s docket slowed considerably. After Justice Scalia’s death, as we described in our review last year, the Court issued several critical but unremarkable “tie” votes. With the uncertainty surrounding Justice Scalia’s replacement, the Supreme Court simply agreed to take fewer major labor and employment cases during the 2016—2017 Term. However, a few decisions will have an impact on employers:

  • McClane Co. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled on the proper level of deference a district court should receive when it chooses to enforce or quash an administrative subpoena.
  • Baker v. Microsoft Corp. eliminated a novel litigation tactic that had previously given plaintiffs in class action cases the right to immediately appeal a denial of class certification to a circuit court.
  • Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton held that retirement plans sponsored by church-affiliated organizations (such as hospitals), but not directly by a church, are exempt from the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

Below are detailed analyses of these cases. At the end of the summary, we preview potential cases that could come before the Court during the 2017—2018 Term.

View the entire review of the Supreme Court’s 2016-2017 term.