The U.S. Supreme Court starts its new term the first Monday of every October – this year, October 3. That’s when the Court opens for business. Sadly, a growing number of people believe that is who the Court is now open for.
On December 27, 2010, The New York Times published an editorial “Temple of Justice,” that said the Supreme Court’s rulings “tend to deny rather than promote access to justice.” At almost the same time, the Constitutional Accountability Center released a study, Open for Business: Tracking the Chamber of Commerce’s Supreme Court Success Rate from the Burger Court through the Rehnquist Court and into the Roberts Court. It found a dramatic increase in the Chamber’s win percentage and the Court’s ideological divide under Justice Roberts. Shortly after that, the Alliance for Justice published Unprecedented Injustice: The Political Agenda of the Roberts Court, starting with a section on “Shielding Corporations from Liability.” The Alliance now refers to the Supreme Court as “The Corporate Court.”
The Court’s rulings last term heavily reinforced this perception. To pick just (the worst?) three:
In AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the Court struck down 5-to-4 a California rule of law that stopped corporations from banning class actions against them for cheating large numbers of people out of individually small amounts of money. Isn’t that when class actions are most needed?
In Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the Court held 5-to-4 that a national class action could not be brought against the nation’s largest retailer for sex discrimination against its current and former women employees. If the company is discriminating – and evidence shows women workers there did far worse in pay and promotions than men – how is it to be held accountable?
In Pliva, Inc., v. Mensing, the same five members of the Court ruled that generic drug manufacturers cannot be sued for failing to warn of their drugs’ dangers, although name-brand manufacturers can be – even name-brand manufacturers of the same drug with the identical warning label. What sense does that make? Congress did not say it; the statue says nothing about this. Who does it help, except for the generic drug manufacturers?