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Supreme Court rules in union fees dispute

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] handed down decisions in three cases Thursday, including the consolidated cases of Davenport v. Washington Education Association and Washington v. Washington Education Association [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], where the Court held that states do not violate the First Amendment by barring a labor union from utilizing non-union worker's dues for political purposes if the workers have not given their affirmative authorization. A Washington state trial court ruled that a union had to ask permission of workers to use their dues for political activity under a Washington state law, a state appeals court reversed - saying the statute placed an undue burden on the union's right to free speech - and the Washington Supreme Court affirmed [opinion text]. Read the Supreme Court's opinion [text] per Justice Scalia, along with a concurrence [text] from Justice Breyer.

In Permanent Mission v. New York, NY [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court held 7-2 that foreign governments may be sued for payment of local property taxes on real estate used for diplomatic residences. The Court, noting that "property ownership is not an inherently sovereign function," affirmed the Second Circuit's decision [PDF text] and held that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act [text] "does not immunize foreign governments from lawsuits to declare the validity of tax liens on property held by the government" for diplomatic residences. Under New York law, real property owned by foreign governments is exempt from taxation if used exclusively for diplomatic offices or quarters for ambassadors or ministers invested with the full power and authority of ambassadors. India and Mongolia, which house their diplomats in the same high-rise buildings in which their missions are located, owe $16.4 million and $2.1 million respectively in tax liens, according to the city. Read the Court's opinion [text] per Justice Thomas, along with a dissent [text] from Justice Stevens.

Finally, in Bowles v. Russell [Duke Law case backgrounder], the Court held that a federal appeals court cannot consider an appeal if the time limit for filing had expired, even when the appeal was filed late in reliance on a district court order. The Court affirmed the Sixth Circuit's decision [PDF text] and held that time limits are a jurisdictional requirement and that the Supreme Court "lacks the authority to create equitable exceptions to jurisdictional requirements." Bowles, who was convicted of murder, had failed to file a timely notice of appeal pursuant to the Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(6) [PDF text], which allows a district court to grant a 14-day extension under certain conditions, because a district judge had erroneously given him a 17-day deadline. Read the Court's 5-4 opinion [text] per Justice Thomas, along with a dissent [text] from Justice Souter.

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