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UH Law Center’s annual Supreme Court Update highlights cases on amateurism in college sports, voting rights and more

Aug. 31, 2021 - The University of Houston Law Center recently presented its 2021 U.S. Supreme Court Update continuing legal education webinar, which featured wide-ranging discussion on several cases involving antitrust law, criminal law, voting rights among other topics. Speakers included Law Center professors and a graduate who provided insights on Supreme Court developments to an audience of nearly 300.  

Alex Roberts ‘06, a partner at Beck Redden LLP, presented the NCAA v. Alston antitrust case. In Alston, student athletes challenged NCAA rules limiting compensation in the form of educational benefits and compensation unrelated to attendance. The NCAA argued it was protecting students’ amateur status and that changing compensation rules would have an anticompetitive effect in consumer markets and would alter students’ amateur status. The Court agreed with student athletes regarding restrictions limiting educational benefits. Roberts suggested that elite colleges will begin offering athletes more educational benefits, while student-athletes are eligible to be compensated for their name, image and likeness.

“Amateurism may be a relic of the past in the not too distant future,” Roberts, president of the UH Law Alumni Association, said.

Associate Professor of Law and Business James D. Nelson, summarized Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a case involving the law of religious liberty. It involved a dispute between the City of Philadelphia and Catholic Social Services (CSS) over a contract to certify families for Philadelphia’s foster care system. While the contract terms included a nondiscrimination clause, CSS refused to certify LGBTQ families based on its religious doctrine. CSS claimed it was entitled to a religious exemption under the First Amendment. The Court found that Philadelphia’s nondiscrimination policy was not a neutral law of general application because the city had the discretionary authority to grant waivers, and CSS was entitled to a religious exemption. In the future, Nelson said that he expects that organizations seeking to discriminate against LGBTQ foster families will scour regulations for individualized processes within the law to boost their chances of getting a religious exemption under Fulton.

“We can expect to see the Court favoring religious exemptions especially in favor of powerful religious organizations,” Nelson said

Law Foundation Professor of Law Seth J. Chandler discussed California v. Texas, another case in the continuing battle on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The Court found that both the individual plaintiffs and the state plaintiffs lacked standing because they had no injury traceable to the individual mandate.  

Associate Professor Daniel Morales covered two cases that reflect broader trends regarding immigration law, Johnson v. Guzman Chavez and Niz-Chavez v. Garland. While each involved different facts, they shared the common request for individualized review in seeking relief from deportation. One question presented was how strictly the Immigration Court must conform with notice provisions. Morales’s read of the last decade of immigration law is that “notice to noncitizens and criminal adjacent rights tend to get the best hearing from the Court when immigration issues get to them. Whenever it comes to substance or Congress’ discretion to make immigration law or construct a deeper set of rights, immigrants tend to lose.”  

Associate Professor Emily Berman discussed AZ Republican Party v. DNC and Brnovich v. DNC. These cases explored whether Arizona’s law, which invalidates ballots cast in the wrong precinct and 2 criminalizes the collection of absentee ballots by third parties, violated the voting rights act. In a 6-3 decision, the Court held the provisions do not violate the voting rights act, reasoning that a state can take action on preventing voter fraud without evidence that it has actually occurred. Berman summarized the Court’s rationale to be that, “because minorities are more likely to be Democrats, racial discrimination and partisan discrimination might look the same but they’re not.

“The Voting Rights Act doesn’t make it illegal to engage in essentially partisan discrimination,” Berman said. “These outcomes make it difficult for individuals to challenge facially neutral voting regulations regardless of their impact on minority voters.”  

Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson, the Newell H. Blakely Chair, presented on Jones v. Mississippi and Terry v. United States, two cases that that she said demonstrate the shortcomings of both the indeterminate sentencing system and the determinate sentencing system, which if taken to the extreme can really lead to some injustices.” These cases demonstrate that two individuals can commit the same offense and share a similar criminal history yet receive different sentences.

“What you see are examples of a wildly indeterminate system that allows for extreme punishment of a juvenile without much due process and a severely determinate and draconian system on the other side where there’s very little latitude to go back even after Congress has indicated a desire to temper those sentences,” Thompson said.

Associate Professor of Law and Political Science Zachary D. Kaufman presented Nestle USA, Inc. v. Doe, which deals with allegations of human rights abuses in the supply chains of two U.S. based companies. Six citizens of Mali alleged that Nestle and Cargill facilitated grave human rights abuses by buying cocoa beans from plantations they knew were using child slave labor. The Court found the lawsuit could not move forward because it was based on conduct that occurred overseas. Kaufman said, “because the Supreme Court has increasingly limited the Alien Tort Statute, as it did in Nestle, abusers will continue perpetrating these crimes with impunity.” However, when abuse touches and concerns territory of the U.S., victims might still have a case under the statute.

Click here for slides from the event.

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