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Analyzing the Chief

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It's been six months since John G. Roberts Jr. was sworn in as the seventeenth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. A big deal was made of his ability to set aside any personal bias, and decide cases strictly on their merits according to the law during his confirmation hearings.

During his first six months on the bench, I've yet to see any substantive examination by the mainstream media of his opinions and voting record, even with nearly fifteen cases decided already this year. This post will be the first in a series where I will break down the core claims of the case, how Roberts voted, and provide a summary of his written opinion if one exists. I am not looking to prove he lied during his hearings, nor am I out to prove the opposite. I will examine his voting record, his written record of published opinions, and compare them to the other justices for those same cases. I leave the conclusions up to you.

I am neither a journalist nor a lawyer, and the opinions here are my own, based entirely on my personal study of court documents.

Each case will be presented in three parts.

  • A case summary: The core claims and brief history of the case.

  • What it means: Should the summary be technical and unclear.

  • How they voted: A comparison of how the justices voted.

  • What he said: My analysis of Justice Roberts written opinion, should one exist.

The case summary consists of my own summary of the one provided by the court, and as such will contain virtually the same information as the court document. All Supreme Court documents were obtained directly from the Supreme Court website. Other information on John G. Roberts may, in part, be obtained from Wikipedia.

Case No. 04-944 - Summary

In ARBAUGH v. Y&H CORP., Jennifer Arbaugh sued her employer, "The Moonlight Cafe", for sexual harassment in Federal District Court, asserting violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Y&H filed a motion for dismissal after a verdict had been entered against them, claiming that the Federal Court lacked jurisdiction under Title VII's "15 employee minimum" requirement. The court agreed, and the suit was dismissed post-verdict, with a subsequent appeal affirming the district courts dismissal.

The Supreme Court Held: Title VII's numerical threshold does not circumscribe federal-court subject-matter jurisdiction. Instead, the employee-numerosity requirement relates to the substantive adequacy of Arbaugh's Title VII claim, and therefore could not be raised defensively late in the lawsuit, i.e., after Y&H had failed to assert the objection prior to the close of trial on the merits.

What it means.
The 15 employee requirement has nothing to do with whether or not the Federal District Court can hear the case, it is instead used to determine if the case has merits to be heard at all, in which case the claim must be filed before the trial ends. The decision to dismiss was reversed and sent back to the district court.

How they voted.
The decision was unanimous, 8-0, with Alito abstaining for not having heard the case arguments.

Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion for the Court.

Case No. 05-379 - Summary

In ANTHONY ASH v. TYSON FOODS, INC., Anthony Ash and John Hithon were two African-American employees who sued their employer, Tyson Foods, claiming they were victims of racial discrimination regarding two open management positions that were later filled by white employees. The case was substantively technical, and did not address the core claims in the original lawsuit.

The Supreme Court determined that the Appeals Court, which itself had found errors in the district courts ruling, had also erred on two points in its decision. The Appeals Court decision to affirm in part, and reverse in part, was vacated by the Supreme Court and sent back with orders to reexamine the erroneous conclusions it had made.

What it means.
The Appeals Court said the district court screwed up, and reversed parts of the district court rulings. Then the Supreme Court said the Appeals Court screwed up, vacated (made void) the ruling and sent it back with the reasons why.

How they voted.
This decision was Per Curiam, meaning the court purposefully withheld vote counts and opinions as it considered the issue non-controversial.[Reference]

Case 04-1264 - Summary

In BUCKEYE CHECK CASHING, INC. v. CARDEGNA et al., the plaintiff entered into a contract with the defendant which required all disputes involving the contact to be decided by arbitration, and not the court system.

Cardegna alleged that Buckeye was charging illegally high interest rates on their loans, and that the contract violated Florida law and was therefore illegal and void. When Buckeye filed a motion in a Florida court to compel arbitration as required by the contract Cardegna signed, it was denied by the trial court, which was later reversed by a state appellant court, only to be reversed itself by the State Supreme Court.

What it means.
The Supreme Court held that "Regardless of whether it is brought in federal or state court, a challenge to the validity of a contract as a whole, and not specifically to the arbitration clause within it, must go to the arbitrator, not the court." The case was reversed and remanded.

How they voted.
Justices Scalia wrote the opinion of the Court, with Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer joining. Justice Thomas dissented, and Justice Alito did not consider the case.

Chief Justice Roberts was with the majority, 7-1.

The first three cases summarized here were are the first in alphabetical order, not when they were heard or decided. Chief Justice Roberts sided with the majority in two of the three cases where that information was available, and he did not write any of the opinions. I'll review more of these cases on the 26th, tomorrow.

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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.