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Topics: Labor Unions

Campaign finance, union cases highlight new Supreme Court term

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Labor unions,Supreme Court,Campaign Finance,PennAve,Sean Lengell,NLRB

The Supreme Court kicks off its 2013-14 season this week by reviewing a case that could lead to more money flowing into federal elections, while cases involving workplace disputes, union influence and copyright issues will fill the court's docket in the coming months.

Justices are expected to hear about 70 cases this term, which will run through June. And while the government shutdown could slow down their work, the high court said it expects to operate as normal at least through Friday.

The campaign finance case, which the justices will hear Tuesday, has been compared with the historic "Citizens United" decision in which the Supreme Court in 2010 struck down most limits on corporate and union spending in elections on the grounds they violated First Amendment guarantees of free speech.

But Citizens United didn't touch campaign contribution limits for individuals. And lead plaintiff Shaun McCutcheon wants many of those restrictions gone as well.

Federal law currently says that during a two-year-election cycle, individuals can't give more than $48,600 to all candidates for federal office, and no more than $74,600 to national party committees that make contributions to candidates.

McCutcheon, a prominent Republican donor from Alabama, says the total $123,200 cap is unfair. The Republican National Committee has joined him in his fight.

If the justices throw out the limits, it would be a huge win for conservatives who say campaign contributions are an extension of free-speech rights and therefore shouldn't be restricted. Critics say removing the caps would lead to big-money donors gaining even more influence over elections than they already have, a scenario they say would lead to corruption.

A decision is not expected until next year.

Hollywood is closely monitoring a copyright case involving the 1980 Oscar-winning movie "Raging Bull."

The case involves an appeal from Paula Petrella, whose father, Frank, wrote the book and screenplay used to make the film that was based on the life of boxer Jake LaMotta, played in the movie by Robert DeNiro. The elder Petrella and LaMotta sold the rights to the book in 1976.

After Frank Petrella died in 1981, his copyrights reverted to his daughter. She sued Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. in 2009 for copyright infringement for creating and distributing copies of the movie, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said she waited too long before filing her lawsuit.

The high court also will consider a case involving President Obama's recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. The justices' decision could cast a legal cloud over hundreds of other rulings by the board, which resolves complaints of unfair labor practices and conducts elections for labor union representation.

Obama in January 2012 appointed three members to the board when the Senate was on break. Presidents can circumvent required Senate approval if the chamber is on recess, a move Obama deemed necessary because of repeated GOP blocks of his nominations to the panel.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in January that Mr. Obama violated law when he bypassed the Senate, saying recess appointments are constitutional only if the vacancies and appointments occur in between official sessions of Congress. The NLRB appealed, and the Supreme Court took up the case.

If the high court rules against the NLRB, rulings made by the board with recess appointees could be deemed invalid.

In another union-related case, the high court will review a lawsuit filed by a home-based health care worker against Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn over a state statute that requires public-sector employees to pay the portion of union dues that don't go to political activities, even if they choose not be in the union.

Justices also will hear a separation of church and state case involved the town of Greece, N.Y. For years the town council has opened its meeting with a prayer. But two residents filed suit to stop the practice, and a lower court ruled the prayers crossed the First Amendment line on the grounds a majority of the invocations contained religious references such as “Jesus Christ” and the “Holy Spirit."

The court also will decide whether a person convicted of domestic violence can be prohibited from owning firearms even if there was no proof that he or she used actual physical force against a spouse or family member.

While federal law forbids gun ownership by anyone convicted of "a misdemeanor crime of violence," judges have been split on how to define that crime.

Wire service reports were used in this article.

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Author:

Sean Lengell

Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner