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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Supreme Court hears arguments in First Amendment religious display case
Jaclyn Belczyk at 3:09 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Wednesday in three cases. In Salazar v. Buono [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether an individual has Article III [text] standing to bring a suit under the Establishment Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] of the First Amendment challenging the display of a religious symbol on government land and if an Act of Congress directing the land be transferred to a private entity is a permissible accommodation. The dispute concerns a Latin cross on a rock outcropping in the Mojave National Preserve [official website]. The display of the cross on public property had already been found in violation of the Establishment Clause, so the government sought to transfer the portion of land on which the cross was located to a private entity. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the transfer of the land is not a permissible accommodation. Counsel for the US Department of the Interior argued that the "Establishment Clause does not prohibit the sensible action Congress took in enacting Section 8121 and thereby divesting the Federal Government of the property at issue in this case." Counsel for the respondent argued:

that what the government has done here by selecting a particular transferee who has been given preferential access to the land in the past to the exclusion of others who wanted to erect other symbols, that the government is taking affirmative steps to permit, through this transfer statute, the display of the cross that they are enjoined from doing.
In Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court heard arguments on whether a US code provision on copyright infringement [14 USC § 411(a), text] removes federal court subject matter jurisdiction over settlement agreements between parties in infringement cases. Under § 411(a), only those copyright holders who have registered their works may pursue infringement claims. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had invalidated [opinion, PDF] a lower court's approval of a settlement in a class action lawsuit on the grounds that the law did not allow federal courts to consider such agreements. Counsel for the petitioners argued that "[t]he Second Circuit's decision vacating for lack of jurisdiction a settlement agreement that compensated authors for all their arguably infringed works in the face of Congress's direction that Federal district courts shall have jurisdiction over any civil action arising under copyright." Amicus counsel argued in support of the judgment below that "there is no reason in this case to reverse the Second Circuit."

In Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether the Railway Labor Act [text] authorizes courts to set aside final arbitration awards for alleged violations of due process by the National Railroad Adjustment Board (NRAB), and if the Board can adopt a new, retroactive interpretation of the standards governing its arbitration proceedings. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that courts may set aside the NRAB's decisions.

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