Supreme Court Sides with Universities and Members of Oversight Board

Although the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in favor of gun rights is getting most of the attention during its busy, final day before a three-month recess, there were several other significant rulings. Here are the highlights:

--The justices ruled by 5-4 that the University of California’s Hastings Law School can deny official recognition, funding, and campus facilities to a Christian student group that excludes openly gay students and others who will not follow the group’s religious tenets from obtaining leadership roles.

Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion, with Justice Kennedy joining the four liberals this time, stressed that the Christian group was seeking "a preferential exemption" from Hastings’s policy of recognizing and assisting only student groups that "open eligibility for membership and leadership to all students."

Justice Alito’s dissent, joined by the three other conservatives, complained that that the principle underlying the majority’s decision was "no freedom for expression that offends prevailing standards of political correctness in our country’s institutions of higher learning." The case was Christian Legal Society v. Hastings College of the Law.

--The court struck down as an invasion of presidential power a key provision of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley law, which was designed to prevent corporate accounting scandals like those that had caused the collapse of Enron and WorldCom. 

The now-voided provision provided an unusual two-level protection against removal for members of the newly created Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. It provided that neither the Securities and Exchange Commission nor the president could dismiss board members without some "cause."

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the five-justice majority that "such multilevel protection from removal is contrary to Article II's vesting of the executive power in the president."  The four liberals dissented in the case, Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.

--A patent-law case widely followed by the business community ended up producing only a narrow ruling that left much unresolved. The justices passed up a chance to determine whether computer software, medical diagnostic tests, online shopping methods, and other business methods can be patented. They agreed only that patent law does not protect the business practice before the court in the case at hand, Bilski v. Kappos. It involved a method of hedging against the effects of weather on energy prices.