Supreme Court decides labor, EPA, clemency cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] issued three opinions Wednesday. The Court ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 in 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that an employee may not bring a statutory anti-discrimination suit when the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) prohibits such suits in favor of arbitration. In 2003, the plaintiffs' employer changed their jobs to positions they described as less desirable. The plaintiffs alleged discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act [text] (ADEA) and brought suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website], which rejected the age discrimination argument. The plaintiffs then filed suit with the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, which found that the arbitration requirement in the CBA was unenforceable because it deprived the plaintiffs of the right to an appropriate judicial forum. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the ruling [text, PDF]. Reversing the lower court decision, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, "We hold that a collective-bargaining agreement that clearly and unmistakably requires union members to arbitrate ADEA claims is enforceable as a matter of federal law." Justice John Paul Stevens filed a dissenting opinion. Justice David Souter also filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer joined. Souter argued that the Court's 1974 decision in Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co. [opinion text] was controlling and that employees subject to a CBA providing for conclusive arbitration of all grievances, including claimed breaches of the ADEA, do not lose their statutory right to bring an ADEA claim in court.

The Court ruled [opinion, PDF] 6-3 in favor of power companies in Entergy Corp. v. EPA [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act [text, PDF] authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] to use a cost-benefit analysis to determine what is the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact from cooling water intake structures that draw water into power plants to offset the heat created during power generation. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuitruled in favor of the various environmental advocacy groups and states that no such balancing test may be used and that companies must adopt the best technology available. Reversing this decision, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote:

We conclude that the EPA permissibly relied on cost-benefit analysis in setting the national performance standards and in providing for cost-benefit variances from those standards as part of the Phase II regulations. The Court of Appeals' reliance in part on the agency's use of cost-benefit analysis in invalidating the site-specific cost-benefit variance provision was therefore in error, as was its remand of the national performance standards for clarification of whether cost-benefit analysis was impermissibly used. [citations omitted]
Breyer concurred in part and dissented in part. Stevens filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Ginsburg and Souter. Stevens argued:
Like the Court of Appeals, I am convinced that the EPA has misinterpreted the plain text of §316(b). Unless costs are so high that the best technology is not "available," Congress has decided that they are outweighed by the benefits of minimizing adverse environmental impact. Section 316(b) neither expressly nor implicitly authorizes the EPA to use cost-benefit analysis when setting regulatory standards; fairly read, it prohibits such use.
This case consolidated issues in two cases: PSEG Fossil v. Riverkeeper (07-589) [docket], and Utility Water Act Group v. Riverkeeper (07-597) [docket].

The Court ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-2 in Harbison v. Bell [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that indigent death row inmates are entitled to federally-provided counsel in their pursuit of state clemency claims. The issue turns on the interpretation of 18 USC § 3599 [text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] for the state that there is no such entitlement. Reversing the lower court, Stevens wrote "that §3599 authorizes federally appointed counsel to represent their clients in state clemency proceedings and entitles them to compensation for that representation." Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Thomas filed concurring opinions. Scalia filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Justice Samuel Alito joined. Scalia concurred that the defendant was not required to obtain a certificate of appealability under 28 USC § 2253(c)(1)(A) [text] before appealing, but disagreed that the defendant was entitled to federally appointed counsel. Scalia wrote:
While purporting to adopt a "straightforward reading of the statute," the Court in fact selectively amends the statute — inserting words in some places, twisting their meaning elsewhere. Because the statute is most naturally and coherently read to provide federally funded counsel to capital defendants appearing in a federal forum, I would affirm the decision of the Sixth Circuit and hold that Harbison was not entitled to federally funded counsel to pursue state clemency.

 

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