WASHINGTON — Before the end of the Supreme Court's session, the court has issued three big rulings. The first headline-grabber was that it upheld the Affordable Care Act. The second unanimously sided with the rights of a religious organization over a policy for same-sex couples. The third stated that the NCAA can't restrict certain compensation for student-athletes. The fourth case looked at a student's right to free speech on social media.
All four were near-unanimous decisions. The Verify team is breaking down what each of them means.
- Robert Peck, a lawyer from the Center for Constitutional Litigation. Constitutional law professor
- Patrick Bradford, an antitrust lawyer from the firm Bradford, Edward & Varlack LLP
- Denver Edwards, an antitrust lawyer from the firm Bradford, Edward & Varlack LLP
- Tillman Breckenridge, a Supreme Court and appeals expert from the firm Stris & Maher LLP
- Dr. Mark Graber from the University of Maryland’s Carey Law School
NCAA v. Alston
This was a historic win for college athletes. While the high court did not rule that student-athletes should be paid, it did find that the NCAA has violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
“The accusation in this case, is that the athletes have had a conspiracy against them by the colleges," Peck said. "The colleges have set their salaries at zero while the schools make lots of money."
Bradford agreed, explaining "The NCAA members have monopsony power, which is simply monopoly power held by a group of buyers."
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court found that the NCAA engaged in 'price fixing' by setting restrictions on educational benefits awarded to student-athletes.
"(The court) ruled there were certain educational benefits that had to be allowed for schools to provide to students," Tillman Breckenridge said.
In its ruling, the court suggested the colleges should offer enhanced educational benefits that go beyond the 'price of admission' to school. The ruling did not directly address pay for athletes or the possibility of sponsorships. But, one justice suggested that could come soon.
In agreeing with the majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote an opinion where he suggested there were large issues with the NCAA not paying athletes, predominantly black young people while reaping billions of dollars in benefits from their labor.
"4% of these athletes make the pros. So the sense that there's this grand payoff that's going to happen down the road for these kids, these young men and women, is really a fiction," Edwards explains. Now, he says, this case opens up the door for student-athletes to turn a profit in their most productive years.
California v. Texas
This was the Affordable Care Act case. The attorneys general from more than a dozen Republican-majority states wanted to strike the law down based on a legal idea called “severability.”
When it was written the Affordable Care Act had a penalty for not paying health insurance. In 2017, a Republican-majority Congress removed that penalty. Scholars said it weakened the law.
Which led to the Republican states arguing, without the penalty the entire ACA is no longer Constitutional because it is not severable from the penalty.
However, our experts said the Republican states missed a key point. They did not present an injured party or penalty in their case.
“Texas and individual plaintiffs didn’t have anyone suffering any penalty because there's no tax, there's zero,” Robert Peck said. “As a result, no injury and no ability for the courts under Article Three of the Constitution to adjudicate this matter.”
Ruling: 7 to 2 to uphold ACA on the basis that the Republican states had no injured party and therefore no standing.
Fulton v. Philadelphia
The city of Philadelphia had a contract with Catholic Social Services for foster homes. The Catholic organization does not certify same-sex couples to foster children. The organization claims it is against their religious views.
This organizational policy was against the city’s policy to not discriminate. Philadelphia stopped sending children to the organization. However, it was discovered the city does allow other exemptions for some organizations involved in foster care.
“The courts said, ‘Aha! There is an exemption provision,’” said Dr. Mark Graber “Once you allow exemptions, you must allow exemptions for the religious believer.”
In this case, the court ruled unanimously in favor of the Catholic Social Services. On the basis that contracts with the city do allow for exemptions. Therefore, it appeared that Philadelphia violated Catholic Social Services First Amendment right.
It really didn’t touch on the broader issue of same-sex marriage discrimination.
Mahanoy Schools V. Levy
In 2017, a Pennsylvania freshman cheerleader Brandi Levy got cut from her high school’s varsity cheerleading squad.
She was disappointed so she made a Snapchat video.
"In which she and her friend raised their middle finger said, '(expletive) school, (expletive) softball, (expletive) cheer,'" Peck said.
No school administrators saw it, but several students recorded the video and showed administrators.
The school suspended Levy and barred her from tryouts for a year.
"So the question is, 'How far does the school's authority over a student grow, such that they can punish a student for speech, even though the student was not physically in the school when the speech was made?'" Dr. Graber said.
Here’s what the high court decided: 8-1 they ruled in Levy’s favor; the school could not suspend her.
"Because her comments were made off-campus and didn't disrupt the school," Dr. Graber said.
However, the court’s decision didn’t extend to all student social media posts made off-campus.
"It didn’t really expand free speech in social media rather, it cut off schools from restricting lots of free speech in social media," Dr. Graber explained.
In cases of online harassment, threats, and bullying, the schools still have the ability to regulate.