Nike had appealed a 4-3 decision by California’s Supreme Court that ruled that a company’s public statements about its operations must be treated as everyday commercial speech with limited constitutional protection. Nike had contended that it was protected by the US First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech.

Justice John Paul Stevens, ruled for the Court’s refusal to review the case, argued that issuing an opinion would result in “the premature adjudication of novel constitutional questions” that would “apply with special force to this case”. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter both signed Stevens’ explanation.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy disagreed.

Justices Breyer and O’Connor stated, “The questions presented directly concern the freedom of Americans to speak about public matters in public debate, no jurisdictional rule prevents us from deciding these questions now, and delay itself may inhibit the exercise of constitutionally protected rights of free speech.”

The three remaining justices gave no written opinion.

The lawsuit against Nike stems from a long-running debate about the company’s labour practices abroad. Nike has been the corporate target of choice for activist organisations seeking to highlight and improve labour practices in the developing world.

The Kasky vs. Nike trial is likely to see powerful groups lining up behind the two parties, with the business community supporting Nike and activist organisations falling in behind Kasky.