The Roberts Corporate Court Strikes Again

The Powerful Over the People

Yesterday, we celebrated two landmark Supreme Court rulings advancing LGBT rights, but a closer look at the rest of the Supreme Court term reveals a wide variety of troubling rulings. These rulings may be on different issues, but they all have a common theme: whenever possible the High Court’s conservative wing puts the interests of the powerful above those of the people. This term the Supreme Court has issued rulings attacking voting rights, consumer rights, workers’ rights, and more.

In particular, the Roberts Court chooses to side with powerful corporations at almost every possible opportunity. Even conservative-leaning Supreme Courts in the past have not sided with corporations as often. For example, in cases where the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce intervened, they won barely more than half the time under Chief Justice Rehnquist. Since Chief Justice Roberts and Alito joined the court in 2006, the Chamber has won 70 percent of its cases. Over the past two terms alone, the Chamber has prevailed in a whopping 88 percent of its cases. In fact, the Roberts Court is the most pro-corporate Supreme Court in more than six decades.

Here’s a few of the areas where the court trampled on the people at the expense of the powerful:

  • Voting Rights: Just this week, the Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. As a result, six states are already moving forward with voter suppression laws that previously would’ve been held up or blocked entirely. If individuals cannot vote, they of course cannot vote for politicians who support progressive or populist policies or vote against those who are the tools of corporate special interests like polluters, insurance companies, and Wall Street banks.
  • Workers’ Rights: In two decisions also handed down this week, the Court made it much harder for victims of workplace discrimination to seek justice. The first case severely limited the definition who counts as a supervisor, making it much easier for people to be intimidated out of taking action against harassment by their bosses. A second decision issued the same day made it much easier for corporations or supervisors to retaliate against individuals who complain about discrimination.
  • Human Rights: In April, the Court severely limited a 200 year-old law that allowed individuals to use the U.S. civil court system to seek recourse for human rights violations committed abroad. Chief Justice John Roberts led a splintered court in ruling that several Nigerians alleging an oil company aided an abetted torture, arbitrary killings, and indefinite detention could not sue, because the corporate conduct occurred outside the United States. It is now essentially impossible to hold anyone accountable for such conduct.
  • Consumer Rights: The Roberts Court has made a habit of issuing rulings that limit the ability of individuals to file class action lawsuits and/or seek justice outside the arbitration system that heavily favors corporations. The Court issued several such rulings this term, making it harder for individuals or even millions of individuals impacted by wrongdoing or some other harm to take on powerful corporations.

In addition, the Court ruled in favor of pharmaceutical companies, authorized what should be unconstitutionally intrusive police collection of DNA, undermined the rights of indigent defendants, and sided with big developers and trampled on “local community rights,” among other unfortunate decisions.

Based on the cases the Court has agreed to hear next term, it appears we may be in for more of the same. The Court will hear cases on abortion rights, housing discrimination, the separation of church and state, the ability of the president to fill executive vacancies in the face of Senate obstruction, affirmative action, and environmental laws, just to name a few potentially explosive decisions.

When the Court managed to rule against corporate interests and the powerful, it almost always came over the objections of Chief Justice Roberts and the other members of the Court’s conservative wing.

BOTTOM LINE: In spite of some bullets dodged and landmark victories, the Roberts Corporate Court continued to distinguish itself by overwhelmingly favoring corporate interests and the powerful over the rights and interests of individuals and the American people.

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Advocacy Team