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.”
Karlan added that the “current Supreme Court seems quite hostile to class actions,” saying she believes the high court thinks “they are too risky for the corporations on the other side. Because, she continued, “If you’ve got a case, with thousands of workers or thousands of consumers, the pressure on the corporation to settle is greater.”
So now individuals have too little ability to challenge corporate malfeasance in the court system, while corporations see little pressure to settle claims Karlan said.
Turning back to Citizens United, Feingold noted what we already know – Chief Justice John Roberts likely turned a narrow case into “an opportunity to overturn essentially a hundred years of good law and for the first time let corporations use their treasuries to run unlimited ads about candidates, and they claimed that, you know corporations are people too.”
As the Occupy Wall Street protests have helped amplify, it’s not just the court system that is helping advance interests of the nation’s corporations and superrich. Economic policy pushed by rightwing policymakers has played a major role in creating a situation where the vast majority of the nation’s wealth is controlled by a tiny group of people.
Stiglitz took on the American dream of rising from poverty to wealth. “The American dream has become a myth,” Stiglitz said. “The belief in the American dream is not supported by the data.”
He took a shot at the refrain peddled by conservative pundits and think tanks that there are all kinds of stories of poor people rising to great power within America, saying “the life chances of a young U.S. citizen are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in any other advanced industrial country for which there is data.”
Stiglitz has written often of growing income inequality and how it is undermining democracy; and the AFJ film amplifies what many liberals have long taken note of – the Supreme Court is exacerbating the problem by siding with the powerful, and limiting the rights of individuals.