One of the most highly charged cases dealing with presidential legal authority and labor policy will come before the U.S. Supreme Court when its 2013 term opens on Oct. 7. The court also will hear arguments this fall in other key construction-related cases.
Topping the list is NLRB v. Noel Canning, which focuses on the legality of appointments to the National Labor Relations Board made during a pro forma session of Congress. The high court's decision could influence construction-industry labor practices, too. The Obama administration has said the appointments were constitutional, but two federal appeals courts have ruled otherwise.
The appellate courts' rulings call into question the validity of NLRB decisions made while the controversial recess appointees were on the board. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says there were more than 900 such board decisions. "I think [Canning] will be an exceptionally important case, and its implications will go well beyond the NLRB," says Mike Kennedy, Associated General Contractors of America general counsel.
Another labor case that may influence construction is UNITE HERE Local 355 v. Mulhall, which centers on whether organizing concessions that employers gave unions in connection with many neutrality agreements are "things of value" that violate the Labor Management Relations Act. Oral arguments are set for Nov. 13.
Maurice Baskin, the Associated Builders and Contractors general counsel, says that, depending on how the court rules, the decision "could significantly affect union neutrality agreements, corporate campaigns and conceivably even project labor agreements."
The justices will wade into construction contractor-subcontractor disputes when they hear arguments on Oct. 9 in Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. The high court will seek to resolve a split among appeals courts on whether out-of-state contractors can demand subcontractors resolve contract disputes in forums other than those designated in contracts. Forum-selection clauses are common in construction contracts with subcontractors, Baskin says.
The justices will hear arguments on Dec. 10 in two cases involving the Environmental Protection Agency's 2011 cross-state air-pollution rule, which aims to ensure powerplant emissions in one state do not increase pollution in downwind states. The rule is likely to require more powerplant retrofits and upgrades.
In one case, EME Homer City Generation v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down EPA's rule. But attorney Sean Donahue, who represents the Environmental Defense Fund, a petitioner in the case, says, "We think the D.C. Circuit went well beyond its proper role" in its ruling.