5 Supreme Court Rulings That Will Change How America Does Business


From religion in the workplace to TV on the Internet, the Supreme Court’s 2013–2014 term featured several high-profile decisions that will have consequences for American corporations and consumers.

Below are five of the most noteworthy cases that could have an impact on the nation's bottom line.

1. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

The issue: Religious rights of employers

The ruling in a nutshell: The federal government cannot require closely held corporations — those owned by a single family or a group of five or fewer individuals — to provide employees with health insurance that includes coverage for birth control. (ScotusBlog)

Business consequences: “The ruling has significant economic undertones. It expands the right of corporations to be treated like people, part of a trend that may be contributing to the rise of economic inequality.” (NYT)

2. ABC v. Aereo

The issue: Copyright protection for broadcast TV shows streamed online

The ruling in a nutshell: It is a violation of federal copyright law for a company to sell subscriptions to a service that streams TV broadcasts over the Internet. (ScotusBlog)

Business consequences: “For broadcasters, the victory preserves traditional and lucrative revenue streams, most notably the fees they charge pay-TV distributors to carry their signals, which could have been undercut by an Aereo win. Such carriage fees have become increasingly important, making up $3.3 billion for the industry last year and expected to hit $7.6 billion by 2019.” (WSJ)

3. Texas v. Environmental Protection Agency

The issue: Regulation of carbon emissions

The ruling in a nutshell: The Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to require a facility to limit its greenhouse gas emissions simply on the basis that it emits carbon dioxide. However, the EPA does have the authority to require permits from factories, power plants, and other facilities that produce “traditional” chemical pollutants in addition to CO2. (ScotusBlog)

Business consequences: “Texas plants that already emit large amounts of traditional pollutants, including its large coal-powered plants, will almost certainly find themselves having to comply with the new rules for greenhouse gases.” (Dallas Morning News)

4. Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank International

The issue: Software patents

The ruling in a nutshell: Software that is based on an “abstract idea” — such as a computer program that automates a process that already existed — cannot be patented. This implies that software that offers an innovative new process or performs an original type of function could be patentable. (ScotusBlog)

Business consequences: “CEOs and inventors without unlimited budgets may be well-advised to proceed with caution before incurring the tremendous costs associated with seeking software patent protection. Unless the underlying technology … relates to a concept not already generally known, the risks and costs of seeking patent protection may far outweigh the questionable rewards.” (TechCrunch)

5. POM Wonderful v. Coca Cola

The issue: Misleading product labels

The ruling in a nutshell: Food and beverage companies have the right to sue their competitors for false or misleading product descriptions, even if those products have already been vetted by the FDA. (ScotusBlog)

Business consequences: The POM v. Coke outcome “is almost certain to produce a significant expansion in competitors bringing … claims against each other over false or misleading statements. … Although the lawsuits might pit merely one business against another, such litigation has the potential to benefit consumers, who may find commercial statements more reliable.” (ScotusBlog)

Images courtesy of: Patrick McKay (Flickr Creative Commons) / Light Brigading (Flickr CC) / On-Air (iStock ©) / nojustice (iStock ©) / OpenSource.com (Flickr CC) / Coca-Cola / POM Wonderful


About The Author

Rob Heidrick

Writer, McCombs School of Business

Born and raised in Austin, writer Rob Heidrick has spent several years as a contributor and editor at local magazines and community newspapers. He...

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