I’m hoping one of the Doper esquires can help with this one.
I sometimes read U.S. Supreme Court decisions as a hobby, but I have no formal legal training (I know – wierd;)) I like reading the analysis to see how a decision was arrived at. By following the thread through previous decisions, you can get a sense of how the common law of the Court’s previous decisions is affecting the current case. This answers a lot of my questions, but there are some that this tactic doesn’t illuminate.
Reading a recent opinion (EEOC v. Waffle House, iirc), the Court granted certoriari to address a conflict in Appeals Court interpretations of a previous standard. This is in itself nothing unusual, and makes sense to me. What I was wondering about was what happens to the previous decisions by the Appeals Court whose opinion was contrary to the new Supreme Court opinion?
Let me give an example to make that question clearer. In EEOC v. Waffle House, the Supreme Ct. decided that the EEOC could pursue back pay and other monetary remedies in court for an employee who was discriminated against even if the employee signed an employment contract specifying arbitration. I don’t remember the details of the lower court decisions, but assume that, say, in 1998 the 5th Circuit decided that the arbitration contract was binding and the EEOC could not pursue remedies in court. Then perhaps the 10th decided in 2000 that the arbitration contract was not binding on the EEOC. In 2001 the Supreme Court accepts certoriari to resolve the conflict, and in 2002 sides with the 10th Circuit. (Again, these details are probably wrong, but it’s an example) This invalidates the 5th Circuit’s opinion. So what happens to the disposition of the case the 5th Circuit decided? Can the EEOC go back to the lower court and say they want to reopen the case and petition for a directed verdict in light of the new Supreme Ct. decision? Do the parties in the earlier case just have to live with a decision that’s no longer law? What if this was a criminal case instead of a civil case?
Thanks for any help.