MARY REICHARD, AUDIENCE: It’s Monday, October 31st The Universe and everything in it from listener-supported WORLD radio. Thank you for joining us today! Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: I’m Nick Eicher.
The Supreme Court is back today after a two-week break from oral arguments. We’ll use today to catch up on some controversy from earlier this month.
First, overtime pay and who gets it.
The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay certain workers time and a half. That is, for hours worked in excess of the 40 hour work week. Some jobs, such as most jobs that are managerial or administrative, are exempt from the overtime wage requirement.
REICHARD: Our case today is a man named Michael Hewitt. He worked on an offshore oil and gas rig supervising other workers. He worked 12 hour days, 28 days in a row, then 28 days off. For that, he was paid per day.
After Hewitt was fired for a labor issue, he sued for overtime pay.
But employer Helix Energy Solutions Group says he is not owed anything. It points to the language of the law to support it: “No compensation for workers” and no compensation for overtime.
At the Supreme Court, Helix’s attorney Paul Clement estimated Hewitt’s salary to be more than $200,000 a year.
CLEMENT: Defendant however contends that he is entitled to hundreds of thousands of dollars over time because his gross salary was calculated at the rate of the day, and over several weeks, compensation is more than his guaranteed pay…
But Hewitt says what matters is how he was paid. Not much.
Ed Sullivan was Hewitt’s attorney at the Supreme Court, and when he emphasized the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, you’ll hear him refer to it with the initials FLSA.
SULLIVAN: For more than 80 years, the FLSA has defined two things: One, the bona fide manager must be paid a salary, and two, the daily wage worker must not be paid. The basic rule of thumb is that workers should be paid according to salary.
That’s for the judges to decide: if a supervisor earns more than $200,000 a year, counted per day, is he entitled to overtime pay, even though the law is different for high-paid executives?
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson sided with the staff:
JACKSON: What he needs to know is how much money is coming in from the regular clip to get a babysitter, to pay a maid, to pay his mortgage. It has to do with, I think, predictability and frequency of payment.
Justice Clarence Thomas saw what most people believe about revenge:
THOMAS: For most people looking at it, when someone makes more than $200,000 a year, that’s usually a sign that it’s worth it. And no – you don’t expect someone making $200,000 a year to be a day laborer. So — you — you’re dead. If you’re talking about $20,000 a year, you do — people say that’s fair.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh pointed out a conflict between the Labor Department’s rules and the law that should be enforced.
Really, has anyone tried it?
KAVANAUGH: I’m just saying, if it’s not here, if the legal argument isn’t here, I’m sure somebody will raise it because it’s powerful.
CLEMENT: Well, you just asked about it, so somebody should bring it up now – (Laughter.) — if not – if not already.
Employees Helix warns that if former employee Hewitt wins, the courts could be flooded with lawsuits to make even more high-income earners.
Well, on to our second debate today, Reed v Goertz.
Rodney Reed was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Stacey Stites in Texas in 1996.
He claims he is innocent. For years, he has been trying to get a DNA test on something from the crime scene to prove his innocence.
Previous Supreme Court precedent says it’s OK for the government to give inmates the right to prove their innocence through new DNA evidence. But if so, the conditions for such a test should be correct.
Texas allows post-conviction DNA testing. But Reed didn’t make it because he missed the state’s two-year application deadline.
So he challenged this time that the deadline was unfair.
At the Supreme Court, his lawyer pointed out how inconsistent Texas’ handling of time limits was.
When does the clock start? When a federal trial court rejects a DNA test? Or not until the prisoner has exhausted his demands?
Reed insists the clock won’t start until the state’s demands are over. He will have more time.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke with Texas Attorney General Judd Stone:
SOTOMAYOR: You’re – you’re saying he’s bad, but putting all that aside, you’re still maintaining that it’s important that he not give up — not give up, but go to the pending appeal. process?
STONE: He may, Your Honor, if he pleases. But if he has had a violation of the law —
SOTOMAYOR: — now should the federal court wait or not?
STONE: Not necessary, Your Honor. And —
SOTOMAYOR: But is it possible?
STONE: If the parties ask to wait, then —
SOTOMAYOR: That — seems like a waste of time.
Stone later advocated for inmates dragging things out to delay the execution. But the judges did not like that argument.
One of the reasons the previous execution date for Reed was canceled was because evidence pointed to someone else killing Stacey Stites. Namely, the fiance of the victim, police officer Jimmy Fennell.
Reed’s lawyer, Parker Rider-Longmaid, explained.
LONGMAID: Mr. Reed in the Texas courts in his next nine petitions before the courts in which he raised evidence that Fennell agreed to kill Stites because he saw her sleeping with a black man, Fennell threatened to kill Stites. if he is caught in his deception, Fennell will make a moving speech at Stites’ funeral, and Fennell’s relationship with Stites will be strained.
After all, Longmaid argued, delay could not be the only reason; the fact that his client may be innocent. So why not just test for DNA and remove the doubt?
Well, the last argument is another argument about submission deadlines.
Here, the story of a Navy aircraft that collided with a merchant ship forty years ago. Sailor Adolfo Arellano witnessed the death and injury of other men as he was nearly wrecked and swept out to sea. He developed serious mental health problems and was honorably discharged after four years of service.
Arellano eventually applied for disability benefits, but to no avail thirty years has gone away. He says that his disability has prevented him from knowing what to do.
The general rule is that a veteran can apply for disability benefits i one period. But if it is more than one year after his surrender, he can receive money from the date of his surrender.
Arellano therefore argued that it was not necessary.
At the Supreme Court, Arellano’s attorney, James Barney:
BARNEY: We hope that the request is modest, but in the cases where it is necessary, and for the veterans who really deserve to be considered for a fair compensation claim, it should be available.
Barney pointed out that procrastination situations lead to the termination of other types of deadlines. So why not here? That’s what it means to “pay fair”.
On the government’s side, Assistant Solicitor General Sopan Joshi argued that the year-long window is not a statutory limit. It’s just a guide to getting paid faster for veterans.
JOSHI: If the Congress does not speak in that language, there is no basis for that decision.
… this is what he meant: the law written by Congress speaks of exceptions, and this is not considered an exception.
Chief Justice Roberts did not:
ROBERTS: I’m not sure which way you really cut your focus on the 16 clauses. I mean, if there were 16 clauses in the law, that kind of says to me that the prosecution of terrorism is completely innocent. important.
Arellano will earn more than $600,000 if he wins. Before that, though, his case must be sent back to the VA for additional fact-finding.
However this goes down, it affects a case that is now on hold awaiting an outcome: the Edgewood Veterans. These are service members who have signed nondisclosure agreements before being injured in secret operations. It was used by the military to test chemical and biological agents. They seek disability benefits through the principle of fair compensation.
And here is this week’s Rule Book.
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