Supreme Court Notebook

 Court weighs arrestee’s objection to home search 

WASHINGTON (AP) —The Supreme Court has said that police may not search a home without a warrant when two occupants disagree about allowing the officers to enter. Hearing arguments Wednesday, the justices seem unlikely to order the police to stay out after the resident who refuses permission to search is arrested and taken away.
The court took up the case of Walter Fernandez, who is serving a 14-year prison term on robbery and guns charges. Police found a shotgun, ammunition and a knife when they searched the Los Angeles apartment Fernandez shared with his girlfriend, Roxanne Rojas.
Fernandez told police they could not enter his apartment. But about an hour after his arrest, officers returned to the apartment and persuaded Rojas to let them in.
 
Court unlikely to say union-casino pact illegal 
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court seemed unlikely Wednesday to declare invalid a pre-organizing agreement between a union and a Florida casino that had the business helping the union organize in return for help with a ballot initiative.
Justices heard from UNITE HERE Local 355, which wants overturned a decision saying its agreement with Hollywood Greyhound Track, Inc., also known as Mardi Gras Gaming, could be illegal.
The union agreed with the company to help win a gambling ballot initiative legalizing slot machines at racetracks, and agreed not to picket, boycott, or strike. Mardi Gras officials agreed to give the union employee addresses, access to the facility and not ask for a secret ballot election on unionizing.
An employee, Martin Mulhall, then sued, saying that the agreement violated national labor laws, which say companies cannot give unions that want to represent employees something of value.
A federal judge threw out Mulhall’s complaint, but that decision was overturned by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the actions of the company, including giving the union names of employees, were “things of value” and thus could violate the labor laws.
But several justices seemed worried about the implications of that argument. For example, Justice Elena Kagan said that the argument from Mulhall’s lawyer, William L. Messenger, could mean that employers would never be able to do simple things like invite union representatives on their property to talk to their employees without running afoul of the law.
“So this is to say that the National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from providing access to their premises, from granting a union a list of employees, or from declaring itself neutral as to a union election?” Kagan said.
Messenger agreed, prompting a reaction from Justice Anthony Kennedy. “Do you acknowledge that your answer to Justice Kagan is contrary to years of settled practices and understandings?” Kennedy said.
The union’s lawyer, Richard G. McCracken, told the justices that preorganization agreements are common among the hospitality industry and casinos.
“Many employers and unions find agreements such as this useful to avoid conflict during organizing campaigns,” McCracken said. “They are efficient. They avoid the hard feelings that come in many contested organizing campaigns and thereby create a good environment for collective bargaining.”
But several justices did question whether giving the union access to the employees, a list of the employees, agreement to a card check process and getting its assistance in passing the ballot initiative qualified as a “a thing of value” under the law.
“There are some things that I think have value even though they may not have market value.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said.
The justices are expected to make a ruling before summer.
The case is UNITE HERE Local 355 v. Mulhall, 12-99.
 
High court considers whistle-blower protections 
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court looked back Tuesday at the collapse of energy giant Enron to determine who is protected from retaliation after blowing the whistle on a company’s misdeeds.
The justices heard arguments in an appeal brought by two former employees of companies that run the Fidelity family of mutual funds. The workers claimed they faced retaliation after they reported allegations of fraud affecting Fidelity funds.
They argue that a provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in 2002 in response to the Enron scandal, protects their whistle-blower activity.
But the court spent most of an hour Tuesday discussing Enron’s bankruptcy in 2001 amid startling revelations that its top executives manipulated the company’s earnings and stock price by lying to employees and investors about Enron’s financial health.
The scandal also took down the Arthur Andersen accounting firm that failed to uncover efforts by Enron to hide its debts among spinoffs it created with “Star Wars"-inspired names like Chewco and Jedi.
Andersen was convicted of obstruction of justice for shredding documents relating to its audit of Enron, though the Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 2005.
In 2002, Congress responded to scandals at Enron and other companies by passing the Sarbanes-Oxley law.
The provision at issue at the Supreme Court protects people who expose the kind of corporate misdeeds that arose at Enron. But there is a dispute over whether the protection covers only employees of publicly traded companies or also applies to contractors hired by the companies.
“What happens if another Enron situation comes along and the corporation’s accounting firm retaliates against an employee of the accounting firm because that employee wants to report illegal activity by the corporation?” Justice Samuel Alito asked Mark Perry, the lawyer representing the companies that manage the Fidelity funds.
Perry said accounting firms and their employees might be covered by another provision of the law, but not the whistle-blower section in front of the court.
Justice Department lawyer Nicole Saharsky disagreed.
“The statute protects an employee of a contractor from retaliation. That’s what the text says. That’s what Congress intended to cover, these accountants, lawyers and outside auditors who were so central to the fall of Enron,” Saharsky said.
The federal appeals court in Boston sided with Perry’s clients.
A decision is expected by spring.
The case is Lawson v FMR, 12-3.

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