The coming Supreme Court decisions that could ripple across the business world


The Supreme Court is weighing new boundaries for corporate America as its term ends in the coming weeks.

Justices for the highest US court have already rejected an appeal from payday lenders to invalidate a consumer finance watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

And before their summer recess starts in late June, the justices are expected to make rulings that could limit the reach of social media, the ability of other federal agencies to crack down on companies, and the power of bankruptcy courts to shield powerful parties from liability.

FILE - Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 25, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Here is a closer look at those cases:

Should tech giants be allowed to decide what content and users are allowed on their social media platforms without government interference?

This is one of the core questions facing the Supreme Court in two cases: Moody v. NetChoice and NetChoice v. Paxton.

The cases challenge the laws in Florida and Texas against the First Amendment. The measures restricted major social media companies from removing the accounts of large publishers and political candidates and from moderating user posts that expressed certain political views.

If upheld by the Supreme Court, the laws would narrow the broad liberty held by social media giants to decide what content and users are allowed on their platforms.

They could also impose higher operating costs on the platforms to monitor and report on content moderation decisions.

Florida’s statute blocks major platforms like Facebook, Instagram (META), TikTok, and X from intentionally removing the accounts and posts of candidates running for political office in the Sunshine State, as well as “journalistic enterprises” that have at least 50,000 paid subscribers or 100,000 monthly active users.

PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 24: In this photo illustration, WeChat, Telegram, Facebook, Instagram,TikTok Messenger, Snapchat and X applications logos are displayed on the screen of an iPhone on April 24, 2024 in Paris, France. The U.S. Congress passed a law yesterday asking Chinese social media app TikTok to cut its ties with its parent company, ByteDance to avoid being banned in the United States. (Photo illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images)©

In this photo illustration, Facebook, Instagram, X, and other apps are displayed on the screen of an iPhone. (Chesnot/Getty Images) (Chesnot via Getty Images)

The Texas law directs social media platforms with more than 50 million monthly US users to refrain from banning content that expresses a viewpoint, regularly disclose the content they remove, and publicly post how they police user content.

NetChoice, a technology organization that advocates for Big Tech companies including Yahoo Finance, opposed both laws and is now involved as a plaintiff in the Texas dispute and a defendant in the Florida matter.

It argues that social media companies are entitled to their own First Amendment right to block users and user content from their platforms.

Social media companies have long pushed back against regulation that interferes with their editorial control over content by invoking Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The act immunizes the platforms from liability for content contained in user posts.

But during oral arguments, justices from both sides of the ideological spectrum questioned whether the platforms’ First Amendment claims conflicted with past Section 230 claims.

The Section 230 argument rests on an assertion that the companies are not speakers or expressing ideas when they choose what content to host. Instead, they argue they merely host the expressions of their users, and apply neutral content moderation policies that determine which user posts are published.

Yet First Amendment speech rights extend only to speakers, and therefore rest on an assertion that the activities of the social media platforms represent the companies’ own expressions.

How much authority should the agencies of the US government have to interpret their own rules?

This is another core question the high court will consider in the coming weeks. Its ruling could shift the balance of power between federal agencies and the wide range of industries they regulate, from finance and banking to fishing, autos, and pharmaceuticals.

The two cases at issue — Relentless v. Department of Commerce and Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo — both feature a battle between herring fishing companies and federal regulators from the Commerce Department.

The fishing companies argue that the government went too far by requiring them to pay a $700 per day salary to mandated US monitors who boarded their vessels.

FILE - In this July 8, 2015 file photo, herring are unloaded from a fishing boat in Rockland, Maine. Herring are the most important bait source for the lobster fishery. Regulators are contending with a drop in the herring population on the East Coast. Cuts in the catch quota will mean the total haul for 2019 will be less than a fifth of the 2014 harvest. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Herring are unloaded from a fishing boat in Rockland, Maine, in 2015. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The corporate world is watching the cases closely because they offer a high-profile test of a four-decade-old precedent known as Chevron deference.

This principle — first established by the Supreme Court in a 1984 case that centered on the Environmental Protection Agency’s interpretation of federal law — holds that judges should defer to a federal agency’s interpretation when that law is ambiguous, so long as the agency interpretation is “reasonable.”

The Supreme Court has already shown in its decision on Thursday, which kept the CFPB intact, that it is not always receptive to cases that challenge the authority of federal agencies.

The fate of the CFPB had been under attack from Republican lawmakers since its inception in 2010 and was put in more serious jeopardy when the case from trade associations representing payday lenders and credit access companies made it to the Supreme Court.

A majority of justices overruled the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found the Bureau’s funding unconstitutional. The high court held in a 7-2 decision that the agency’s funding meets the requirements of the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause.

Can corporate defendants use federal bankruptcy to shield themselves from legal peril?

The Supreme Court will also consider this question in the coming weeks.

Its decision could change the power of US bankruptcy courts to approve agreements that extinguish the liabilities of parties outside a bankruptcy proceeding.

The case at issue here is a high-profile dispute involving bankrupt OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma and the billionaire Sackler family that once controlled it.

The main question in Harrington v. Purdue Pharma is whether or not the Sacklers can use bankruptcy to protect their personal fortunes from future opioid-related liabilities.

Purdue filed for bankruptcy protection in September 2019 — under the pressure of thousands of lawsuits blaming it for fueling the opioid crisis — but none of the Sackler family members declared bankruptcy.

Bottles of prescription painkiller OxyContin, 40mg pills, made by Purdue Pharma L.D. sit on a shelf at a local pharmacy, in Provo, Utah, U.S., April 25, 2017. REUTERS/George Frey

Bottles of prescription painkiller OxyContin, made by Purdue Pharma. (REUTERS/George Frey) (REUTERS / Reuters)

In exchange for a release from future OxyContin injury claims, the Sacklers agreed through a series of negotiations to pay $6 billion to victims of the drug and their families, as well as to state and local governments.

The funds are meant as compensation for opioid-related deaths and injuries and to establish government aid programs to combat opioid addiction.

A majority of the litigants agreed to the settlement as a way to extract as much money as possible for their injuries, but not all consented to the Sacklers sidestepping personal liability for their claims.

During arguments, justices across the political spectrum questioned whether Congress, by passing bankruptcy laws, meant to deprive personal injury victims of their right to sue third parties, such as the Sacklers, who are not subject to the bankruptcy proceedings.

“The Purdue Pharma decision from the Supreme Court could result in one of the most consequential bankruptcy decisions in over a decade,” said George Singer, a partner at Holland & Hart.

Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow Alexis on Twitter @alexiskweed.

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