Roberts Court

  • October 3, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Roberts Court is a tool of corporate America. At least that’s the gist of a new film from Alliance for Justice, called “Unequal Justice: The Relentless Rise of the 1% Court.”

    This of course is not news to those who pay attention to what the Supreme Court does, nor is it agreed upon. For instance the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Chamber of Commerce likely see the Roberts Court as a protector of American capitalism – the place where almost anyone can lift themselves up by their bootstraps to become superrich.

    “The Roberts Court is basically a pro-business court,” Stanford Law School Professor and ACS Board member Pamela Karlan, says in the AFJ film. “They don’t have a desire to really open the federal courts up to suits by average Americans, either workers or consumers, or people who are injured by various products; it’s a pro-business court.” (Watch the film here or view below.)

    The film reminds us of the Court’s opinions that shut down a class action gender discrimination lawsuit against the retail giant Wal-Mart, overturned a woman’s lower court verdict against a company for years of gender discrimination, and found that corporate America has even more power to spend boatloads of money to sway elections.

    “The Citizens United’s impact has been dramatic,” says former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold and founder of Progressives United. “And since then our system is in the worst free-fall it’s been in since the Gilded Age, probably worse.”

    Even former Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a rightwing policymaker, weighed in on blasting Citizens United as one of the most “misguided, naïve, uniformed, egregious decisions of the United States Supreme Court, I think in the 21st Century.”

    Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation and narrator of the 20-minute film, said individuals have been shut out of the justice system by today’s Supreme Court, which “has decided that when everyday people run up against powerful corporate interests, the big corporations almost always win.”

    Some of the women behind the class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart explain their efforts to advance equality and deal with a stinging defeat.

    “The women of Wal-Mart brought the case to stand up for their right to be treated equally, but they never got that far,” Heuvel said. “The decision turned on whether their claims had enough in common. The conservative majority raised the hurdle for class actions, and made it harder to prove discrimination.”

  • July 3, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Despite upholding the Affordable Care Act, corporate America continues its winning ways before the nation’s highest court.

    Specifically, the Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s biggest lobbyist for business interests has “prevailed in 68 percent of its cases before the Roberts Court,” writes Neil Weare for the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC). He adds that the Chamber’s “success has grown significantly since the stable Rehnquist Court, when it was just 56” percent.

    In close cases, Weare says “Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito have become the Chamber’s strongest champions.” Roberts has sided with the Chamber 84 percent of the time; Alito has sided with it 92 percent of the time.

    “In sum,” Weare concludes, “the October 2011 Term yet again demonstrates the roaring success of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has had before conservative Justices on the Roberts Court.”

    The trend also shows liberals are making little headway in reversing the decades-long movement to destroy the nation’s social safety. While poverty continues to grow, and a small group of outlandishly wealthy people continues to consolidate its power, all three branches of the federal government, not to mention a slew of Republican-controlled statehouses, seem forever beholden to the wealthy few.

    The Affordable Care Act, which the high court narrowly upheld, and did so by placing limits on Congress’s spending power, is also under attack by right-wing politicos who are bent on hampering even moderate efforts to create a decent social safety net in a wealthy country.

    As noted here, Republican governors are loudly proclaiming they’ll work to undermine the Affordable Care Act, especially its provision calling for an expansion of Medicaid. TPM’s Brian Beutler reports that Louisiana’s right-wing governor, Bobby Jindal, says “we’re going to do everything we can” to trash the Obama administration’s health care law.

  • April 27, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    For what feels like decades, reporters, pundits, and ideologues, mostly on the right, but some on the left, have lauded Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for his wit, pointed oral argument questioning and allegedly brilliant writing. But those plaudits, in light of the justice’s performances during oral argument in cases challenging health care reform and Arizona’s racial profiling law, are wobbly at best, bordering on delusional.

    In reality Scalia increasingly has difficulty, as The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank recently noted, containing his rabid partisanship. It’s unbecoming. During the Affordable Care Act oral argument it appeared, at times, that his only preparation involved reading right-wing blogs railing about the slippery slope to regulations mandating purchases of broccoli and gym memberships. At oral argument in Arizona v. U.S., regarding challenges to several portions of the state’s anti-immigrant law, Scalia “left no doubt from the start that he was a champion of the Arizona crackdown and that he would verbally lacerate anybody who felt otherwise,” Mibank wrote.

    Milbank continued, “Scalia’s tart tongue has been a fixture on the bench for years, but as the justices venture this year into highly political areas such as health-care reform and immigration, the divisive and pugilistic style of the senior associate justice is very much defining the public image of the Roberts Court.”

    And it’s not a flattering image. Not only does Scalia come off as a ringleader of right-wing hacks in robes, he increasingly comes off as clueless or heartless. During the health care oral argument, questions from Scalia and some of the other right-wing justices prompted a string of commentators to question whether the justices understood the health care insurance market.

  • March 28, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    So it appears just based on oral argument action, if you believe pundits, such as CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin that the high court’s conservative justices are ready to trash precedent and accept the simplistic arguments of the challengers that the Affordable Care Act’s minimum coverage provision is a wild overreach by the federal government.

    As noted in this ACSblog post, UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler says we shouldn’t be surprised that the high court’s right-wing majority may be leaning this way. It has already proved it has no problem shunning precedent or being out-of-touch, for example see Citizens United v. FEC.

    In a piece for The Huffington Post, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson argued against the idea that the minimum coverage provision is “unprecedented,” as its challengers like to call it.

    “What is truly radical,” Fredrickson says, “is the economic theory the state and individual challengers are pushing, which calls for a greatly limiting the ability of Congress to address national concerns. It’s an argument that longs for the days when courts actively shut down congressional attempts to solve national problems.”

    Geoffrey Stone, a constitutional law expert and a member of the ACS board, explains, also in a Huffington Post article, why the law’s minimum coverage provision, which will require Americans who can afford to do so to starting carrying health care insurance in 2014, is seemingly so unappealing to the high court’s conservative wing. Primarily the conservative wing appears to be obsessed with a slippery slope – if folks can be required to purchase health care insurance then what’s next?

    Stone notes that the “slippery slope is a means of reasoning, not a conclusion. Every principle and decision has a slippery slope: The question is whether we can get off the slope before it reaches bad outcomes. In this instance, this is easy. The decisions of millions of individual Americans not to purchase health insurance (even though they can afford it) have a dramatic impact on the cost of health care for everyone else and on interstate commerce. This is clearly an appropriate matter for federal attention under the Commerce Clause.”

  • March 14, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Doug Kendall, President, Constitutional Accountability Center


    Lyle Denniston recently described “the tendency of the ‘Roberts Court’ to take on the broadest kind of controversy in cases brought to it.” From Citizens United v. FEC, in which the Court expanded the case on its own motion, scheduled a second argument, and then issued a sweeping ruling discarding prior case law, to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) cases about to be argued, in which the Court decided to hear just about every claim presented to it -- including claims unanimously rejected by the lower courts -- and scheduled six hours of argument time over three days, the Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has put itself at the center of some of the most important political controversies of our day.

    Decisions like the Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United illustrate that the Roberts Court is not only taking big cases and issuing sweeping rulings, it is also splitting sharply along ideological lines on important questions about the meaning of our founding document. That is the focus of The Constitution at a Crossroads: The Ideological Battle over the Meaning of the Constitution, an attempt by Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) to map and describe the ideological battlegrounds on the Roberts Court. We began to rollout the Crossroads project today with a media teleconference featuring Tom Perriello (former Member of Congress and current head of Center for American Progress Action Fund) and myself (you can listen to our remarks here).

    CAC will be releasing Crossroads chapter-by-chapter over the next several months, beginning today with the release of three chapters on the powers of the federal government, which helps set the stage for the ACA argument later this month. Our plan is to release a dozen or so more chapters over the course of the spring, as the Court races toward the end of its October 2011 Term. After the Court completes its work, we will spend the summer editing, revising and compiling Crossroads into a single document for release in the early fall, timed to coincide with the celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution and  the opening of the Court’s October 2012 Term. Because Crossroads will be released over time and then revised and edited after the Court ends its Term in June, we very much welcome comments and criticisms from ACS members as we shape the final product.

    Crossroads is not the first attempt to map the ideological divisions on the Supreme Court. In 1988, in the wake of the decisive defeat of the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and in the run-up to an election that seemed destined to determine the direction of the Court for a generation to come, the Reagan Justice Department released a series of reports that highlighted “substantial differences of opinion over the judicial role in contemporary society.” The most famous of these reports, entitled The Constitution in the Year 2000, highlighted fifteen areas of constitutional law likely to be decided by the Supreme Court over the intervening years, and the “alternative roads down which the Court might travel over this time.”