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June 7, 2024

2024 US Supreme Court case rulings: MSU experts can comment

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to deliver rulings on a slate of key cases on topics including social media regulation, government agency authority, environmental regulation, homelessness rights, drug company influence and abortion access. Many of the cases this term could affect both government institutions and how people live their private lives.

 

As the court issues rulings at the end of this term, Michigan State University has experts from many colleges who can comment on the implications of these rulings, including both sides of these cases.

Social media regulation

Limiting posts: NetChoice, LLC v. Paxton; Moody v. NetChoice, LLC

Nancy Costello is a clinical professor of law at MSU’s College of Law, where she serves as the director for the First Amendment Clinic and the McLellan Free Speech Online Library. Costello’s expertise includes intellectual property law, as well as media and copyright law.
Contact: ncostello@law.msu.edu

NetChoice v. Paxton and Moody v. NetChoice involve challenges to laws in Florida and Texas that would regulate how and when social media companies can moderate their content and require companies to be transparent in their content moderation practices. NetChoice is a coalition of social media companies and internet platforms that challenged the laws, claiming they violate tech companies’ free speech rights. The laws were largely a reaction to social media companies removing content posted often by conservative voices during the Covid-19 epidemic and following the January 6th attack on the national capitol.

“The task of the Court is difficult. It has to sort out what practices by social media companies are expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment, and what practices are non-expressive and can be regulated by the states. The social media companies argue that both these practices (and all others) are exercises of “editorial discretion” that are protected by the First Amendment, and similar to the free speech rights of newspapers and parades. But the states contend that given the sweeping breadth, size and variety of social media platforms they are more like utilities and telegraph companies – common carriers – and subject to greater government regulation.”

Removing misinformation: Murthy v. Missouri

Anjana Susarla is the Omura-Saxena Professor in Responsible AI in the Department of Accounting and Information Systems in the
Broad College of Business. Her areas of expertise include artificial intelligence and machine learning, social media, crowdsourcing and analytics.
Contact:
asusarla@broad.msu.edu

A significant percentage of the U.S. population turn to social media to obtain information about health or medical topics. Responsible content moderation policies are necessary to ensure that social media platforms do not unintentionally magnify or accentuate potentially unsubstantiated medical information. The National Academy of Medicine convened an independent advisory group to identify sources of credible information on social media. It is of utmost importance to the public that regardless of the outcomes of Murthy v. Missouri, digital platforms should incorporate the guidelines from the National Academy of Medicine and the World Health Organization to incorporate the new global principles for identifying credible sources of health information in their guidelines, safety policies and enforcement to protect public health.

Government authority and power

Federal agency authority: Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo; Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce

Jordan Cash is an assistant professor of political theory and constitutional democracy in James Madison College. His expertise focuses on the constitutional structure of American political institutions and the resulting effects on the authority and behavior of individuals operating within those institutions.
Contact:
cashjor1@msu.edu

Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo is one of the most important cases that the Supreme Court will decide this term and has the potential to be the most consequential case in administrative law in 40 years. This is because at the heart of the case is the doctrine known as “Chevron deference.” Chevron deference was defined in the 1984 case Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. and states that in cases which involve a government agency’s interpretation of a congressional statute, courts must use a test to evaluate the statute. If the case is overturned, the end of Chevron deference would not only be a major change in administrative law but could serve as a constitutional wake-up call to the other branches, disrupting the way Congress has interacted with executive agencies for decades.

Air pollution regulation: Ohio v. EPA; Kinder Morgan Inc. v. EPA; American Forest & Paper Association v. EPA; and U.S. Steel Corporation v. EPA

Robert Wahl is an assistant professor in the Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health in the College of Human Medicine. He is an environmental epidemiologist whose expertise includes asthma surveillance, air pollutants’ effects on asthma and adverse birth outcomes, and the health effects of climate change.
Contact: wahlr@msu.edu

“The Environmental Protection Agency applies rules to mandate reduction of emissions from power plants and factories in states in which their emissions blow into neighboring states. More specifically, the rules limit the release of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide, which is an important component of ground-level ozone (also known as smog). Ozone causes inflammation in the lungs, with increases in ozone levels leading to worsening of asthma and COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, symptoms and increases in emergency department visits and hospitalizations for people with asthma. It is important to note that communities with low income and minority residents are more likely to live in or near high-pollution areas. These communities are also more likely to have higher rates of asthma, COPD and other respiratory illnesses due to low or no access to care, lack of insurance, difficulty with transportation to health care, etc. To compound bad situations, these same folks living in high-pollution areas and experiencing more chronic disease are seeing their symptoms get worse DUE TO air pollution exposures.”

Homeless shelters in public spaces: City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson

Deyánira Nevarez Martínez is an assistant professor in the Urban and Regional Planning Program in the School of Planning, Design and Construction in the colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Social Science. Nevarez Martínez’s expertise focuses on the role of the state in homelessness and housing precarity and informality. In fact, she was part of a group of social scientists who submitted an amicus brief with peer-reviewed research on homelessness in support of the plaintiffs.
Contact: nevarez1@msu.edu

“My own research in Southern California explicitly demonstrates how local enforcement of anti-homeless ordinances not only fails to resolve but also intensifies the plight of the unhoused by stripping away their dignity and autonomy. This case offers a critical juncture to reevaluate and eliminate such punitive measures, replacing them with proven, supportive interventions that address the underlying causes of homelessness and foster long-term stability. It’s imperative that our policies reflect a commitment to humane and effective solutions.

“If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the City of Grants Pass, it could exacerbate homelessness by criminalizing unsheltered homelessness even when there is no available shelter. This would result in more people with criminal records, making it harder for them to find jobs and housing, and forcing them to deal with legal issues rather than addressing personal barriers. Jails are dangerous for unhoused people and may be worse than living on the streets. Additionally, people would lose crucial community ties. Criminalizing homelessness also increases conflict and hampers community efforts to address the issue, as it pits people against each other instead of encouraging collaboration. By ruling in favor of the unsheltered individuals who brought the case, the court would affirm that everyone in the community is valued and that the legitimate role of local government is to ensure decent conditions for all, rather than targeting certain individuals for incarceration or exclusion.”

Read more from Martinez on this case.

Health access and care

Opioid settlement: Harrington v. Purdue Pharma L.P.

Cara Poland is an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology in MSU’s College of Human Medicine. Poland focuses on educating physicians and physicians-in-training to improve care for patients with substance use disorders and alcohol use disorders. She is the program director of an addiction medicine fellowship in collaboration with Trinity Health West Michigan.
Contact:
polandc2@msu.edu

“The actions of Purdue Pharma and its board of directors, including members of the Sackler family, should be held accountable for their contributions to the opioid, addiction and mental health crises facing our nation and those we serve at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. We trust that the Supreme Court will act in a nonpartisan manner to help provide restitution to the communities impacted by these crises and to support the health and wellness of our country. Key components of this include the need to ensure that the spending does what it is intended to do and that expenditures follow the Johns Hopkins Opioid Settlement Spending Principles, are in compliance with Exhibit E of the broader opioid settlement dollars and are subject to reporting and accountability to public transparency.”

Emergency room abortions: Idaho v. U.S.

Sean Valles is a professor and director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Justice in the College of Human Medicine. His expertise includes examining the challenges of responsibly using race and ethnicity concepts in monitoring health disparities, analyzing how biomedicine meshes with public health and population health, and studying the ethical aspects of how communities’ health is impacted by government policies. He can comment on both Idaho v. U.S. and Food and Drug Administration v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine.
Contact: valles@msu.edu

“The federal law at issue — the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act — means that every patient in the emergency room has a right to receive whatever emergency medical care they need, regardless of how hospital administrators or politicians might feel about it. Idaho says that its state-level restrictions on abortions should allow them to limit what kind of care doctors can provide to patients in emergencies. The importance of this dispute is clearest in cases where a pregnant patient desperately needs an emergency abortion to prevent permanent harm (but not certain death), such as needing emergency abortion care to prevent a stroke or to prevent having so much damage to the uterus that it would need to be surgically removed. The Idaho law says that preventing major medical harms isn’t a good enough reason to allow pregnant patients to get an emergency abortion. If the Supreme Court sides with Idaho by limiting EMTALA rights, pregnant patients in the emergency room will be at increased risk of injury or even death in states that threaten doctors with arrest and prison if they interfere with a pregnancy while treating a patient.

Abortion medication access: Food and Drug Administration v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine

The case is an attempt to limit abortion access across the U.S. by cynically attacking the process for how the FDA approved the drug mifepristone, which is used for medication abortions. Mifepristone has been on the market for over two decades and has proven itself to be one of the safest drugs on the market — it is about as safe as the over-the-counter painkiller ibuprofen. Needlessly restricting this very safe and effective drug would force abortion-seeking patients nationwide to either use a less safe and effective medication option or to book a more invasive procedure at a clinic. As has been repeatedly stated during this legal battle: patients who don’t want to take mifepristone don’t have to, and doctors who don’t want to prescribe it don’t have to do that either.

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