The United States Supreme Court concluded its 2013-2014 term by issuing decisions in several highly publicized employment and employee benefits cases during the Court’s final scheduled sessions, including Noel Canning, Harris, and Hobby Lobby. Overall, the Roberts Court continued to validate its pro-business reputation in labor, employment and employee benefits cases, with employers and plan sponsors prevailing more often than not, including in several key cases. But the Court also issued a handful of decisions that were favorable to employees.
While the predominantly pro-business results were not a surprise, the vote counts of the Justices in the cases were certainly unexpected. In a substantial departure from previous terms, the Court’s conservative and liberal wings were frequently in agreement. Of the 10 decisions during the 2013-2014 term, six were unanimous, and only two were by a vote of 5 to 4. This represents a complete reversal from the Court’s 2012-2013 term, in which six of the 11 employment-related decisions were 5-4, and only two were unanimous. And the Court’s unanimity was not limited to employment-related decisions. According to SCOTUSblog, the Court issued unanimous opinions in 66% of all cases during this year’s term, the highest percentage in any term since World War II. The Court’s decisions during the 2013-2014 term also display an increased willingness by the Justices to issue narrow rulings that focus on the specific factual situations that are presented, rather than broad rulings that reach well beyond the facts of a particular case. While some commentators have applauded the Court’s exercise of “judicial restraint,” others expect the narrow rulings to spur future litigation.
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