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In the News: Supreme Court Issues Landmark Rulings

Over the past two weeks, the Supreme Court of the United States has issued multiple landmark rulings that will have enormous impact on multiple areas of society. Here are some of the key cases:

  • American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant

Until this decision, the Court has repeatedly stated that people and companies can only be forced out of court and into arbitration when they can "effectively vindicate their substantive rights" in arbitration. For this reason, the Court has depicted arbitration as just a procedural alternative to litigation in court.

In American Express, the Court held that so long as the plaintiffs have a theoretical "right to pursue" their substantive rights in arbitration. This ruling means that corporations can force small businesses and individuals into arbitration even when it can be proven that they will not be able to enforce their rights under federal law.

· Mutual Pharmaceutical v. Bartlett

This decision revolved around a product liability lawsuit from a generic drug company.  The decision expands immunity for generic drug manufacturers, giving immunity to generic drug manufacturers for failing to warn about the drug's side-effect. The Court held that the generic maker is only making a "copy" of the brand drug and simply must follow the brand drug's label.

· Shelby County v. Holder

This decision involved Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which established a "coverage formula" to determine which states and local governments fall under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. If a governmental entity was required to follow Section 5, the entity would need to obtain approval before changing their voting laws.

In Shelby County, the Court, in a 5 to 4 ruling held that Section 4 is unconstitutional and that the formula that had been used can no longer be utilized to establish "preclearance" requirements. In so holding, Chief Justice Roberts writing for the majority stated, "The conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions."

· U.S. v. Windsor

This decision revolved around the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Initially passed by Congress in 1996, DOMA prevented same-sex couples whose marriages were recognized by their home state from receiving hundreds of benefits available to other married couples under federal law.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy stated that "The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity." Justice Kennedy continued, "By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment."

While this case causes the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages for the purpose of affording same-sex couples the same benefits as married couples in states where same-sex marriages have become legal, the future question will likely be whether states like West Virginia will also be required to recognize the legality of same-sex couples married in other states for the purpose of benefits.

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