SUPREME COURT: The Chamber’s Genie
March 30, 2011, 4:00am

The Progress Report

by Faiz Shakir, Benjamin Armbruster, George Zornick, Zaid Jilani, Alex Seitz-Wald, Tanya Somanader, and Ian Millhiser

Ever since Chief Justice Roberts joined the Supreme Court, corporate America has treated his Court as its personal genie, and Roberts has been eager to grant even many of their most outlandish wishes. As soon as Roberts and his fellow conservative Justice Alito joined the high Court, the Chamber of Commerce’s win rate before the justices spiked eight percentage points above its already very high levels under his conservative predecessor William Rehnquist. Nor is Roberts alone in his willingness to go the extra mile for wealthy corporations. A recent study found that every single justice is more likely to side with the Chamber than the justice who held the seat 25 years ago. As one of the Chamber’s top Supreme Court litigators bragged, “except for the solicitor general representing the United States, no single entity has more influence on what cases the Supreme Court decides and how it decides them than the National Chamber Litigation Center.” This week, corporate America made three especially large wishes to the justices, and the Court’s conservatives once again appear eager to grant them.

ELECTIONS FOR SALE: The best way for big business to push its agenda is to ensure that elected officials throughout the country owe wealthy corporations their jobs — and the Supreme Court took a big step towards making this vision a reality with its infamous Citizens United decision. In the wake of Citizens United, the Chamber pledged to spend a massive $75 million to elect corporate-aligned conservatives, and the Chamber’s right-wing allies kicked in hundreds of millions of dollars more. Yet Citizens United is merely one part of a much larger campaign to cement big money’s control over American elections. On Monday, the justices moved on to the next stage of this effort. Public financing laws provide one of the strongest defenses against the corrupting influence of big money in politics, but public financing schemes only work if they allow candidates who opt into them to remain competitive. To defend against this problem, Arizona developed a two-tiered public financing system. Candidates receive additional funds if their opponent or corporate interest groups overwhelm them with attack ads, and thus candidates who are determined not to be tainted by the corrupting influence of major donors are not left defenseless. Yet, in a case called McComish v. Bennett, the Court’s five conservatives appear poised to strike this two-tiered system down. If they do so, it could be the death knell for public financing, since no candidate is safe from massive infusions of corporate money after Citizens United.

SLAMMING COURTHOUSE DOORS: Many of the Court’s most corporate-friendly decisions create complicated and arcane procedural barriers to Americans seeking justice. The Court’s discredited Ledbetter decision didn’t literally take away women’s right to equal work for equal pay. It just created a procedural rule that made it impossible for women to vindicate their rights if they didn’t learn that they were paid less than their male colleagues until a short time after the discrimination began. In Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the Supreme Court will decide whether to shut off another opportunity for women in the workplace to seek relief — class actions. Class action lawsuits are brought by groups of plaintiffs who share a common injury with each other. These suits are essential to allow ordinary Americans, who often lack the resources to hire lawyers capable of taking on a major corporation on their own, to pool their resources in order to hire counsel that are capable of facing off against someone like Wal-Mart. There is substantial evidence that women who work for Wal-Mart stores shared the same experience of systematic pay and promotion discrimination and thus should be able to bring a class action. If the Supreme Court denies them this right — which it seems likely to do — many of them will be left powerless before Wal-Mart’s legal team.

IMMUNITY TO THE LAW: Procedural victories are all well and good, but there’s nothing corporate America loves more than actual immunity from the law. Past Supreme Court decisions gave sweeping legal immunity to medical device manufacturers and health insurers, and even gave the thumbs up to a biased system of corporate-owned courts that overwhelmingly rule against consumers and employees. In a case called PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, the justices will now decide whether to give sweeping immunity to the makers of generic prescription drugs. If the Court sides with the drug makers in this case, two women could be left with no recourse after a prescription drug caused them to develop a horrific neurological disorder resulting in “grotesque involuntary movements of the mouth, tongue, lips, and extremities, involuntary chewing movements, and a general sense of agitation.” And thousands of other Americans could be left similarly defenseless against the powerful pharmaceutical industry.

Think Fast

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned the actions of the five American soldiers charged with the murder of three unarmed Afghan men. Karzai, in his first public comments on the soldiers: “They killed our youth for entertainment. They killed our elders for entertainment.”

Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) is maintaining his position that a government shutdown could be good for the country. In an interview with CBS News, Walsh said that “if we need a jolt, if we need the government shutdown for a few days for us to really get serious, I think the American people are with that.”

An Ohio House committee passed a bill that would severely limit the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions yesterday, and the legislation is expected to pass the full House today. The bill will leave “hundreds of thousands of Ohio’s families with less job security, lower wages and, in many cases, no job at all,” said Representative Dan Ramos, an Ohio Democrat.

“IBM is breaking with other American multinationals by not pushing for a corporate tax holiday,” a proposal which Republicans and their corporate backers have been pushing recently. The tech giant called a tax holiday a “distraction” from more meaningful tax reform. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has signaled it may hold a similar position.

Yesterday, the House voted to terminate the Home Affordable Modification Program, the Obama administration’s program “designed to reduce mortgage payments for homeowners” in danger of foreclosure. While helping 600,000 homeowners, the program has underperformed and House Republicans said “it is a prime example of a federal program that isn’t worth the cost to taxpayers.”

In a speech on U.S. energy policy today, President Obama “will set an ambitious goal” to cut oil imports by a third over 10 years. He plans to outline four areas of focus to curb U.S. foreign oil dependence — domestic energy production, more natural gas in vehicles, car and truck efficiency, and encouraging biofuels.

Two co-founders of Park 51, the Muslim community center planned to be built blocks from Ground Zero in New York City, are considering a new project: building an interfaith cultural center to be built nearby. “Once we are ready to announce our new vision, we will talk to the property owner and see if it is the right location for us,” said co-founder Daisy Khan.

And finally: Karlos Marks came in second in elections for student government president at the University of Michigan last week, despite the fact that the candidate doesn’t exist. But not existing didn’t stop Marks — “and other variations of his name, including Karlos Marx, Karlos Markus and Carlos Marx” — from winning two seats on the student council. A mark appears to be a hoax organized by graduate students who must think they’re pretty clever now.

Blog Watch

What we can learn from the liberals of the 1930s.

The GOP war on labor moves to academia.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-TX) announces fire sale of America to his oil overlords.

Wisconsin Senate GOP leader brags about busting unions.

Uncut DC protests Bank of America.

It took three hours to retrieve downed US aviator in Libya — people are stuck on the subway for longer than that.

For the second time, Wisconsin Judge blocks Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) anti-union bill.

Mitt Romney and his potential Christian problem.

Daily Grill

“Where are the jobs?.”
– Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), 2/25/10.


“I would urge my colleagues to support — oppose this amendment. And stop talking about jobs, let’s focus on the substance of these amendments.”
— Biggert, 3/29/11