Kia Franklin

The Supreme Corp.—er, I mean, Court

Thinking about the Take Back America Conference, a recent report on corporate funding of judicial elections, and this week's recent Supreme Court decisions all tie together (somehow) in my mind to spell out a need for us to think about corporate influence on the courts. Is justice too expensive for the American public?...

Those who had the chance to attend the Take Back America conference in D.C. this week got to hear DMI's Executive Director, Andrea Batista Schlesinger, give an awesome speech on the role of corporate power versus the role of government in our society. (The folks at The Albany Project got the speech on tape). She covered a lot of topics that would resonate with the social justice community, one of which was the issue of tort reform (and yes, she talked about the pants-suit):

What is the role of corporate power in the country? And what is the role of government?...I encourage you all, throughout this conference—and I will do the same—to ask yourself: Are we getting to the core questions? ...

How many of you heard about the judge with the pants? Okay--are we going to talk about the role of corporate power in dismantling our civil justice system so that almost everybody knows about this judge who sued the dry cleaners about his pants, but we don't know enough about the extent to which tort reform is funded by the very industries that don't want to be held accountable? I mean, I'm not saying he should have sued about the pants. I'm just saying that's a point—that we should be able to hold corporations and power entities accountable. Let the jury decide.

Wait--that sort of implies that corporate interests are buying our courts... Why, wherever could that suggestion come from? Well, this New York Times Editorial on corporate interests and the judiciary looks at a recent report released by the Justice at Stake Campaign, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics on corporate financing of state judicial elections. An excerpt:

The problem of wealthy interests’ trying to influence court decisions by pouring money into state judicial elections continues to escalate, according to a newly released report. So does the threat to the impartiality, independence and integrity of the nation’s courts...

By far the biggest spenders in the 2006 judicial elections were business interests. They contributed $15 million to the 88 state supreme court candidates who raised funds in the latest election cycle, about 44 percent of all contributions, and far more than the roughly $7 million that lawyers gave.

...[T]he overall picture is bleak enough that states need to act quickly to stop special-interest money from becoming, in the words of the report, “a permanent national campaign against impartial justice.” [Emphasis added.]

And this week's Supreme Court decisions certainly look a little corporation-friendly. Both its Credit Suisse (Duke Law Case Summary Here) and Tellabs (Duke Case Summary) decisions made headlines and earned the praises of corporate interest groups. These cases are just two examples of the Court's leaning towards business interests over the public's interest this term. This L.A. Times article discusses:

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration and corporate lobbyists long have sought sweeping "tort reform" to limit lawsuits and massive jury awards — without much success. But in the last year, they quietly have been winning much of what they've wanted on a case-by-case basis in the Supreme Court.

With a week to go in their term, the justices have handed down a dozen rulings that sharply limit the damages that can be won in lawsuits or make it harder to sue corporations.

"The Roberts court is even better for business" than the court led for two decades by the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, said Washington attorney Maureen E. Mahoney, who is a longtime friend of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and a former clerk for Rehnquist. "There is unquestionably a greater number of business cases before the court, and [the justices] are quite willing to limit damage remedies."

In February, for example... keep reading

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Posted at 12:05 PM, Jun 22, 2007 in
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