Category Archives: United States Supreme Court

Justice Scalia’s Influence on Legal Writing is Questioned

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California Irvine School of Law School and Constitutional Law Scholar

Today’s post comes from guest author Hayes Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California Irvine School of Law School and author of the textbook Constitutional Law, recently wrote an op-ed for the L.A. Times in which he noted a pattern he has seen in his students of mimicking Justice Antonin Scalia’s writing style. He is not pleased.

Justice Scalia is well-known for his confrontational and colorful battles with the left side of the bench, particularly with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. His dissents unabashedly slander the opposing point of view and use such phrases as “gobbledy-gook,” “beyond absurd,” and “mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.” He even wrote that if he had shared the opposing side’s opinion he would “hide [his] head in a bag.”

Chemerinksy makes a good point: while we often find Scalia’s opinions and dissents amusing, should attorneys, judges and new students be expressing their opinion in this manner? Lawyers are held to a high standard of ethics in this country and are expected to be respectful of the court and of all parties involved. Is it professional to attack fellow lawyers and judges by ridiculing and demeaning them? Scalia’s colorful dissents might be getting the public more interested in the law but at what cost?

How the Supreme Court Decision on Same-sex Marriage Applies in the Workplace, Part 2: Family and Medical Leave Act

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Another consequence of the decision legalizing same-sex marriage is that same-sex spouses are eligible for FMLA leave to take care of a spouse with a serious health condition. This raises some difficult practical questions, such as how FMLA leave works for same-sex couples that include: 

Can an employer ask for a marriage certificate when an employee asks for leave to take care of a same-sex spouse? 

The answer to this question is probably yes. The U.S. Department of Labor states that an employer can ask for a verification of marriage so long as they don’t discriminate in the requirement. An employee with a newly legally recognized same-sex marriage may feel inconvenienced that they have to prove their marital status to get FMLA leave. They might also feel they are being discriminated against because heterosexual individuals aren’t asked to provide a marriage certificate when they take FMLA leave to take care of their spouse. However, if an employer requires heterosexual couples to verify marriage through a producing a marriage certificate for insurance purposes, it could make sense that a heterosexual person is not asked to produce a marriage certificate to take family leave, if they have already done so for insurance purposes. 

Taking family leave can be stressful, and I am sure there are some human-resources officials who hold anti-LGBT attitudes. But even if an employer doesn’t request a marriage certificate for heterosexual couples to verify FMLA leave, employees should assume that the request is made in good faith. Courts favor individuals who comply with the requests of their employers, even if those requests aren’t made within the letter of the law. 

In states where marriage was same sex marriage was legalized by Obergefell, when do FMLA protections start?

In states like Nebraska, where the Obergefell decision legalized same-sex marriage, an interesting question is whether an employer is required to retroactively count family leave as FMLA if the leave started before the marriage was formally legalized in that state but the individual’s same-sex marriage was recognized in another state. This is a pertinent issue in Nebraska, since many same sex-couples were married in nearby Iowa, which has recognized same-sex marriage since 2009. The U.S. Department of Labor would likely argue that if you married your same-sex partner in Iowa that you would have had FMLA protections in Nebraska to take care of your spouse even if Nebraska didn’t recognized same marriage until June 26, 2015. But courts may not give much weight to the opinion of the U.S. Department of Labor. This issue is a legal toss-up. The best thing that same-sex couples can do to protect their rights to FMLA leave is to not give their employer any valid excuses for terminating them for taking FMLA leave. 

Please click here to read part one of this series. Feel free to contact our office if you have questions about the issues raised in these two posts.