by Sen. Doug Whitsett
The United States Supreme Court has been busy this summer. The preponderance of their body of work has been focused on reaffirming their constitutional authority to check the powers of governments. The high Court has acted to limit government actions to only those powers conferred to it by the people, in six recent decisions.
The nine Justices upheld Fourth Amendment “search and seizure” limitations in their Riley v. California decision. The Court ruled “unanimously” that the warrantless search of a cell phone is unconstitutional. They reasoned that the search of a cell phone, or other hand held device, is only allowed under the law, if probable cause has been established, and a search warrant has been obtained, signed by a judge or magistrate.
The Court upheld the First Amendment right to freedom of association. In Harris v. Quinn, the majority of the Court decided that home health care workers, cannot be compelled to join a union, or to be forced to make payments in lieu of union dues.
This ruling may significantly affect Oregon public employee unions. A law enacted, during the Democrat super-majority in 2009, allows Service Employees International Union to compel as many as 7,500 home health care workers to join their union. The law provides that these workers will only be public employees for the purpose of labor organization. They are currently forced to join the union, or make payments in lieu of union dues, even if they actually own the home where they care for the disabled people.
The high Court unanimously upheld a constitutional provision clearly stating that only the United States Senate has the authority to determine when it is, or is not, in session. In NLRB v. Noel Canning, all nine justices ruled that President Obama’s alleged “recess appointments” to the National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional.
It is widely acknowledged that Obama made the appointments to the NLRB while the Senate was out of town, because he knew the people he appointed would never be confirmed by the majority of the Senate. For that reason, he decreed that the Senate was in recess so that he could appoint the Board members without the affirmation of the US Senate.
In my opinion, that action was quite an oversight for a man who alleges to be a constitutional scholar and has previously lectured law school students on the meaning of the US Constitution. The high Court rebuked his failure to follow that Constitution on a unanimous vote.
The Supreme Court decided that closely held family corporations cannot be compelled to support programs, or to take actions that violate the religious beliefs of the owners of the corporation. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the majority of the Court upheld the First Amendment right of family corporations, to not be compelled to financially support birth control measures that go against their religious belief.
Specifically, the owners of Hobby Lobby are opposed to abortion, and to any form of birth control that prevents the development of fertilized ova. The Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act cannot compel Hobby Lobby to pay health insurance premiums, for plans that include birth-control methods that cause the death of an embryo.
This decision was a major blow to the Obamacare model for universal third-party-payer health insurance. The Court affirmed that neither individual people, nor their businesses, can be forced to comply with a “one rule fits all regulation”, when that regulation violates their constitutional rights.
In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to regulate something solely because of its potential to emit greenhouse gases. In a scathing rebuke of EPA rulemaking that clearly expanded its regulatory power far beyond its statutory authority, a seven member majority of the high Court stated:
“EPA asserts newfound authority to regulate millions of small sources— and to decide, on an ongoing basis and without regard for thresholds described by Congress, how many of these sources to regulate. We are not willing to stand on the dock and wave goodbye as EPA embarks on this multiyear voyage of discovery. We affirm the core administrative –law principle that an agency may not rewrite clear statutory terms to fit its own sense of how the statute should operate”.
Finally, the Supreme Court once again upheld the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly and free speech in McCullen v. Coakley. The Court ruled unanimously that abortion protestors cannot be herded into free speech zones by refusing them access to public sidewalks in the name of public safety. The Court ruled that any restrictions to free speech must be based on misconduct, not directed at peaceful speakers. Although the Chief Justice’s written opinion is less than directly on point, it certainly serves to affirm our constitutional right to peacefully assemble in public and freely express our opinions.
Taken as a whole, the Supreme Court rulings this summer have been very challenging for the Obama administration. In fact, for the first time in recent history, the high Court has rebuked the actions of the President more often than the rulings of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Conversely, the Supreme Court decisions have been great for the American people and the rule of law.
Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls