Improbable Alliances in Supreme Court Opinions on Overtime, and the Death Penalty: NPR

US Supreme Court justices

Olivier Dollery/AFP via Getty Images


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Olivier Dollery/AFP via Getty Images


US Supreme Court justices

Olivier Dollery/AFP via Getty Images

The US Supreme Court defied its usual 6-to-3 conservative/liberal split in two decisions on Wednesday. One participant who qualifies for overtime pay. On the other hand, Arizona refused to apply Supreme Court precedent in jury instructions for the death penalty.

The overtime case was brought by Michael Hewitt, a highly paid oil rig supervisor, who sued his employer, Helix Energy Solutions Group, arguing that because he was paid a daily wage, he was entitled to overtime for the typical 84 hours. 7 days at work.

The only question in the case was whether he should, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, be paid one and a half wages for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. Helix Energy claimed that Hewitt, who earns $200,000 a year, was excused from the overtime requirement because he was a “cool executive.”

The court, by a vote of 6 to 3, sided with Hewitt. Writing for the majority, Judge Elena Kagan said Helix did not pay Hoyt a salary, as defined by federal regulations. Instead, I paid him as a day laborer. If he works one day in a given week, he gets paid for that day only. If he doesn’t work days, he doesn’t get paid.

Kagan wrote that “workers on a daily wage of any income level” do not receive a base salary under DOL regulations, adding that “Helix’s various policy claims cannot justify a departure from the rules.” These rules, she notes, date back to the 1940s, noting that salary is defined as “a fixed compensation paid regularly, by year, quarter, month, or week.” In addition, under the regulations, salaried employees are paid a week’s wages even if they have not worked all week.

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Although Kagan acknowledged that Hewitt was a high earner, Helix’s position, she said, would “create disturbing consequences” for the low-income workers who are “at the center of FLSA protection.” In short, daily workers earning less than $100,000 will be denied overtime pay.

Kagan was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Amy Coney Barrett and Kitangi Brown Jackson.

Those dissenting included Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.

view of the death penalty

The death penalty opinion was Arizona’s latest rebuke for its refusal to comply with a 1994 US Supreme Court decision (Simmons v. South Carolina) that required judges to instruct juries in capital cases that a life sentence means life without the possibility of parole in cases where such is the case.

However, in Arizona, justices have continued to avoid doing so, and in 2016 the Supreme Court restated its original view, ruling in an unsigned opinion (Lynch v. Arizona) that it was fundamentally wrong to conclude that Simmons’ decision “does not apply” in the state Arizona.

Following the 2016 Supreme Court ruling, death row defendant John Montenegro Cruz appealed his sentence. The Arizona Supreme Court refused to allow a retrial and declared that the 2016 decision was “not a significant change in the law.” But on Wednesday, the US Supreme Court rejected it again, by a vote of 5 to 4. Writing for the majority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that prior to Lynch’s 2016 decision, Arizona courts held that death penalty defendants did not have the right to inform a jury of their ineligibility for paroleā€”a position that the U.S. Supreme Court succinctly reversed in 2016. Sotomayor wrote that the court’s ruling On the contrary it was “new and unfounded” and should be reversed.

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Sotomayor was joined in the majority by Chief Justice Roberts, Justices, Kagan, Kavanaugh, and Jackson. Justice Barrett wrote the main opposition, and Justices Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch joined her.

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