Supreme Court hears arguments on ministerial exception, foreign copyrights

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] in two cases on Wednesday. In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court considered whether an employment discrimination claim can be brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) [text] against a religiously affiliated school despite the Act's "ministerial exception." The exception allows religious organizations to give "preference in employment to individuals of a particular religion" and to "require that all applicants and employees conform to the religious tenets of such organization." The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) [official website] and Cheryl Perich brought a claim against the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School alleging that the school had unlawfully terminated Perich in violation of the ADA because she was diagnosed with narcolepsy. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] held that the school violated the ADA and that the ministerial exception did not apply. Counsel for the school argued that the ADA did not apply due to the exception, Perich's only recourse was to ask for a hearing before the church's administrative board, and the case should not be heard in civil courts. Counsel further argued to draw a bright line distinction between who is to be considered a minister under the exception and who is not, stating that the case could be tried if the label of "minister" was a sham. Counsel for the EEOC and Perich argued that the exception clearly applies to ministers and religious leaders, but Perich was responsible for numerous secular duties that should not be considered under the exception. Counsel alleged there was no difference between the employment dispute with the religious organization and a similar dispute with a secular organization stating that "the government has a compelling and indeed overriding interest in ensuring that individuals are not prevented from coming to the government with information about illegal conduct."

In Golan v. Holder [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments to determine the copyright status of foreign works that used to be in the public domain. Specifically, the issue for the court to consider is whether section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 1994 (URAA) [text], which restored copyright protection to thousands of foreign works previously in the public domain, violates the Progress Clause and First Amendment [text] of the US Constitution. The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] held that section 514 did not violate the constitutional principles. Counsel for the government argued that the URAA was necessary in order to align the country with international intellectual property rules, stating that the Act was "of vital importance to protecting one of our most valuable economic exports, intellectual property." Counsel for the petitioners, which included orchestra conductors, educators, performers, film archivists and motion picture distributors, argued that the URAA imposed a "remarkable" burden on speech.

There can't be any doubt ... that performance has a huge amount of original expression bound up in it. It's the reason it's different to see King Lear at the Royal Shakespeare Company; it's the reason it's different when John Coltrane plays a jazz standard. [There is a] huge amount of expression.
Counsel further argued against the government's position that the US needs to be aligned with the intellectual property policies of other countries. Counsel argued that the court had previously recognized a "critical speech interest" in publishing, performing or showing the work of another and that "the burden here is [the URAA] took speech rights of 250 million Americans and turned them into the private property of foreign authors, all on the bare possibility that [it] might put more money in the pocket of some US authors."

 

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