As an individual, I follow the cases considered by the United States Supreme Court rather closely. This is, I will admit, more a matter of personal interest than professional necessity. A majority of cases fall into areas of law that I don’t practice in. For example, criminal law and procedure makes up a huge proportion of cases that the court takes each year, and that very rarely is relevant to me. Much media focus (understandably so) is centered on Supreme Court cases with high political stakes, but those sorts of cases, more often than not, actually involve criminal statutes themselves or are appeals brought by defendants. The simple explanation for this is that many Supreme Court cases are brought by those seeking to reverse an earlier court ruling.
Of course, some cases will be relevant, sometimes in ways that are unexpected. There is consistent litigation regarding arbitration clauses in contracts which are especially relevant in cases of employment disputes. For example, in Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon, the Court ruled that airplane cargo loaders and ramp supervisors belong to a class of workers that are exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act because they are engaged in foreign or interstate commerce, even if they never leave the airport where they work. This makes it easier for these workers to bring employment claims in civil court, rather than through private arbitration.
Another example, less favorable for Plaintiffs, is Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C., which ruled that emotional distress damages are not recoverable in a private action to enforce either the Rehabilitation Act or the Affordable Care Act. Notably, the actual case concerned allegations of discrimination on the basis of disability against a healthcare provider. This ruling also applies, at least at first blush, to other “federal-funding based” restrictions against discrimination, such as Title VI and IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is very significant because a large portion of the damages in such cases (legal fees aside) often come from emotional distress damages rather than direct economic damages (especially the case in Title IX claims, in the context of education).
These are but a couple of examples of somewhat under-the-radar cases that affect the course of litigation either in the procedural tools that they have available or down to the very damages they may collect for violations of their rights. While they may have not gotten the same attention as some others, each United States Supreme Court case has a real effect on real people. For court-watchers like myself, it is a good thing to keep in mind.