The Supreme Court opens its new term today with numerous cases before it that hold great potential significance for the business community - but also for government, pensioners, minorities, taxpayers, consumers, unions and others.One of the cases pits retired Chicago truck driver John B. Daniel, the Securities and Exchange Commission and a band of small, nonprofit reform groups against an extraordinary coalition:
The Solicitor General of the United States, representing the Labor Department; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the American Bankers and American Bar Associations, the AFL-CIO, and such industry heavy-hitters at the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans.
The key issue in the case is whether the anti-fraud provisions of the Securities laws applies to joint pension funds that employers pay for and that are involuntary for employes who are automatically enrolled.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the provisions do apply, as aruged by Daniel, the SEC and his other allies. The coalition, arguing the contrary, wants the Supreme Court to reverse the decision.
The justices agreed last February to review the ruling and will hear argument, at a date not yet set, early in the new term.
Pension plans of the kind at issue enroll an estimated 37 million workers and have assets of about $264 billion, making them the biggest single source of capital for private investments.
Daniel's employers, for 18 years, made contributions in his behalf to a joint Teamster local-employers' trust fund. It led him to believe he would get a pension on retirement. He didn't he once had been involuntarily laid off for three months, and the layoff, unbenknownst to him, violated a requirement of continuous service. He contends - successfully up to now that the anti-fraud provisions were aplicable and were violated.
A second major case is a follow-on to last term's Bakke decision upholding affirmative-action plans at major universities that take race into account. Like Daniel, the new case has a potential to affect thousands of employes and millions of persons - but unlike Daniel, it has not been accepted for review by the court.
The issue in the case is whether an employer and a union can negotiate a voluntary affirmative action plan, including quotas for minorities, in a plant that has not been shown to have racially discriminated in the past.
Such a plan was agreed upon by Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp. and the United Steelworkers of America, AFL-CIO, for in-house training in three skill trades.
But at the Kaiser plant in Gramercy, La., Brian F. Weber and other whites, with more seniority than some of the black accepted for training, complained that the program was "reverse discrimination" prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
They won first in a U.S. District Court in New Orelans after a one-day trail, and then in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court for Appeals. If its ruling is allowed to stand a ban on such plans jurisdiction: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Already, however, such plans are faltering in some plants elsewhere and adoption of new ones is being inhibited.
The Union has petitioned the Supreme Court to review and reverse the appeals court. So has the company, although it said that it wouldn't object if the ruling were to be nullified and sent back so that the meager record should be expanded.
That course - nulliciation and remand - was stronlgy urged by the Justice Department, in behalf of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCC).
The government brief in the Supreme Court relied in part on the opinion in the Bakke case by Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., who cast the decisive vote. Powell, the brief pointed out, said that the validity of an affirmative action plan may turn on whether a federal agency has found and acted upon discrimination by an employer:
But the "very limited" federal Court record in the Weber case - one-day trial consisting of the testimony of four witnesses, seven exhibities and a short stipulation - doesn't reflect findings and recommendations by the OFCC, which in 1971 told Kaiser that its craft and employment practices were discriminatory, the government said.
Moreover, wrote Solicitor General Wade H. McCree, plans such as Kaiser's reflect congressional preference for voluntary remedies that avoid "elaborate" government monitoring and enforcement as well as "the expense, delay and rancor" of Title VII litigation.
The high court also will hear argument in the new term on another affirmative-action case that, like Weber, concerns an employer not shown to have had a racially discriminatory intent, even though the hiring system resulted in disproportionately low employment of blacks and Hispanics.
The case involves the Los Angeles County Fire Department. A federal judge imposed, and that 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld, a quota for hiring minority applicants until they constitute a share of the fire-fighting force equal to the proportion of blacks and Hispanics in the country population.
Following are additional questions raised by cases before the court, with those that have been accepted for oral argument designated by an asterik. Appearing after each question is the decision of the court below. FOREIGN TRADE
Can municipalities impose personal property taxes on freight containers owned by foreign shippers, carried in vessels chartered and homeported abroad, and intermittently deposited in the United States for loading and unloading freight moved in international commerce? Court below: yes. BANKING
When a national bank has the Comptroller of the Currency's approval to form a new bank-holding company that the Federal Reserve Systems fear would be unsound, and if the Fed hasn't shown that the company would cause or worsen unsound conditions at the bank, must the Fed approve the company? Court below: yes.
Does the National Bank Act allow a bank to have a rate of interest for credit-card customers that is higher than allowed by the state in which the customers reside, but not higher than allowed by the state where the bank is headquartered? Court below: yes. STATE REGULATION
Does a state deny free speech by prohibiting members of a profession - optometrists - from practicing under corporate or trade names? Court below: yes.
Does a state deny the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Constitution by requiring it soptometry board to be controlled or dominated by members of a state optometric association? Court below: no. SEX DESCRIMINATION
Must an employer allow seniority to accumulate through all rather than merely part of a maternity leave?Court below: no. ANTITRUST
Was there a shield in the law for a buyer (A&P) when in knowingly induced a supplier (Borden, Inc.) to "meet competition" from rival suppliers by underbidding them with a discriminatorily low price? Court below: no. ANTITRUDT/INSURANCE
Does theexemption from anti-trust laws that Congress provided for the "business of insurance" cover insurer-druggist arrangements for retail pricing of prescription drugs provided under a prepaid health plan? Court below: no.
Does the same exemption let insurers set the hourly rates they will pay auto-body repairmen? Court below: yes PATENTS
Inducing the inventor of a stunningly successful and lucrative new type of socket wrench to assign his patent rights to it, did his employer (Sears, Roebuck & Co.) defraud him and breach a confidential relationship? Court below: yes. FEDERAL PROCUREMENT
Can the General Accounting Office compel pharmaceutical manufacturers to do what all other government contractors do: provide, in confidence, cost and pricing data on the purchased products? Court below: yes. TAXATION
In calculating taxable income, must the Internal Renvenue Service let a manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer compute the market value of "excess" replacement parts in an inventory on the basis of net realization value? Court below: no.
Can the exemption from federal "business league" be taken by a non-income taxation carved out for a profit trade association consisting entirely of dealer-members franchised entirely by a single manufacturer (Midas Muffler)? Court below: no. UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS
Can a state (New York) pay strikers unemployment "comp" that has been financed by their employer (New York Telephone)? Court below: yes.
Can a state (Pennsylvania) that denies such benefits to strikers pay them to locked-out employes (of Sun Oil) who were out of work through no fault of their own? Court below: yes FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
Can federal agencies not required to do so disclose affirmative-action plans tht a government contractor (Chrysler Corp.) claims to be confidential and that the act exempts from mandatory disclosure? Court below: yes.
Does the act's requirement of disclosure of final policy decisions allow an agency (the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee) to defer disclosure on the ground that effective policy implementation necessitates deferral? Court below: no. SAFETY/CONSUMER
Can the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulate residential aluminium electrical wiring? Court below: yes.
Can the Food and Drug Administration require labels on packaged cosmetics to list ingredients? Court below: yes.
Can the Labor Department forbid firing or other punitive discipline of a worker who declines a particular task that he has reason to believe puts him in immediate peril of injury or death? Court below: no.