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“Courting Business”: Scalia Worked Hard To Deny Ordinary Citizens Their Day In Court

In Antonin Scalia’s thirty years on the Supreme Court, his name became a byword for social conservatism. And when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate would refuse to consider any replacement President Obama nominates it was natural that opponents of same-sex marriage and abortion were relieved. Yet Scalia’s death will have only a limited impact on the culture wars, because regarding many social issues he was already in the minority on the Court. But there is one area where the question of his replacement has huge consequences: business. As a member of the Court’s conservative majority, Scalia played a key role in moving American law in a more corporate-friendly direction. Now that majority is gone, and a huge amount rides on what happens next.

Under Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court has not gone as far in limiting government power over the marketplace as many conservatives would have liked. But the Roberts Court has been the most pro-business of any since the Second World War, according to a paper by the law professors Lee Epstein and William Landes and Judge Richard Posner that looked at decisions from 1946 to 2011. Its five sitting conservatives, including Scalia, ranked among the ten most business-friendly Justices of that period. The Roberts Court hasn’t just made a lot of pro-business rulings. It has taken a higher percentage of cases brought by businesses than previous courts, and it has handed down far-reaching decisions that have remade corporate regulation and law. In Citizens United, it famously ruled that corporations had free-speech rights and that many restrictions on corporate spending in elections were therefore unconstitutional. It has overturned long-standing antitrust restrictions. It has limited liability for corporate fraud and made it harder for workers to successfully sue for age and gender discrimination. It has made suing businesses and governments more difficult, especially in class-action suits.

This is no accident. Since the Reagan Administration, Republican Presidents have filled the Court with Justices steeped in the ideology of the conservative legal movement. As Brian Fitzpatrick, a law professor at Vanderbilt who once clerked for Scalia, told me, “Conservative Justices start from a world view that says we have too much litigation in general and it’s a sap on the economy.” Conservative nominees to the Court have been far more worried about government overreach than about corporate misbehavior. They have been skeptical of the use of class-action suits to achieve social goals or enforce regulations. And, once corporations recognized that the Court was predisposed to favor their interests, they began pursuing those interests more aggressively. As the legendary N.Y.U. law professor Arthur R. Miller told me, “The business community smelled blood and went after it.” Most notably, the Chamber of Commerce has become assiduous in pushing corporate cases to the Court.

A few of these cases have received a lot of attention, but the most consequential work of the Roberts Court in protecting corporate rights has been in cases that have gone mostly unnoticed, including a pair (A.T. & T. v. Concepcion and American Express v. Italian Colors) in which Scalia wrote the majority opinion. In these cases, both of which turned on an interpretation of a once obscure 1925 law, the Court ruled that companies could require customers to give up their right to sue in open court, with disputes to be settled by a private arbitrator instead. “These cases don’t get people’s attention the way things like abortion and same-sex marriage do,” Miller said. But, if the decisions stand, Fitzpatrick argues, “they have the potential to literally wipe out the class-action lawsuit.”

That might not sound like a bad thing—we’re always hearing that Americans are too litigious—but, in an era when regulators are routinely falling down on the job, lawsuits play a crucial role in deterring corporate misbehavior. Miller calls them a “private enforcement of public policies.” And when it comes to big corporations class-action suits are often the only kind that make any economic sense. If every individual defrauded by a company loses fifty dollars, the collective harm can be immense, but it’s not worthwhile for any single victim or lawyer to bother. Fitzpatrick says that obstacles to filing class-action lawsuits make it more likely that “companies will not be held accountable for hurting people, for cheating people, for defrauding people, for discriminating against people.” In that sense, the battle over access to the courtroom is, as Miller puts it, “a kind of class conflict between ordinary individuals and corporate power.” And in that conflict there’s no question which side Scalia was on.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that his death will change things. But many of the Roberts Court’s most important business cases were decided by a 5–4 margin, with the five conservative Justices voting as a bloc. And, as Fitzpatrick points out, “Scalia has done more than any other justice in making it difficult for consumers and employees to bring class-action suits. So his absence alone may make a difference.” There have already been signs of this: just last week, Dow Chemical settled a major class-action suit, saying that Scalia’s death increased the chances of “unfavorable outcomes for business.” It’s unlikely that Scalia will be replaced anytime soon. But let’s hope that, when a successor is finally appointed, it is someone willing to give ordinary citizens the day in court that Scalia worked so hard to deny them.

 

By: James Surowiecki, Financial Page, The New Yorker, March 7, 2016 Issue; Posted March 1, 2016

March 1, 2016 Posted by | Antonin Scalia, Businesses, Citizens United, Corporations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Corporate Sponsors Should Pay His Salary”: Why Should You And I Have To Keep Paying Mitch McConnell’s Salary?

Antonin Scalia is gone. The nastiest and noisiest of right-wingers on the Supreme Court is dead.

But he can’t be any more brain dead than Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate. In a blatantly partisan ploy to prevent President Obama from nominating a successor to Scalia, McConnell has cited a historical precedent dictating that presidents who are in the last year of their term do not name new justices to the high court. “Therefore,” he babbled, “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

What a silly old squirrel McConnell is! Article II of the U.S. Constitution plainly states that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Judges of the Supreme Court.” Note that the Constitution says the president “shall” do this — as a duty to the nation. Nothing in the founding document suggests that this power and duty is voided in an election year. In fact, 13 Supreme Court nominations have been made in presidential election years, and the Senate took action on 11 of them. McConnell’s assertion is bogus (and silly), for history and the Constitution clearly back Obama.

Ironically, one who would have nailed McConnell for such a slapstick political perversion of plain constitutional language is Scalia himself. He practiced what he called “originalism” in his official judgments, insisting that the Constitution must be interpreted only by the words in it and only by the original meaning those words had for the founders when they wrote them into the document.

McConnell’s squirrelly stall tactic is as ridiculous as it is shameful. It’s also totally hypocritical, since Mitch himself voted in February 1988 to confirm a Supreme Court nominee put forth by Ronald Reagan — in the last year of his presidency.

This leads me to ask, why should you and I have to keep paying McConnell’s salary? Not only is he a Senate majority leader who doesn’t lead; the lazy right-wing lawmaker really doesn’t do anything, refusing to pick up the legislative tools he’s been given and go to work on the many things that We The People — and America itself — need Congress to do. Imagine if you tried doing nothing on your job — just drawing your paycheck after ignoring your workload!

Repeatedly, this senatorial slug says no to every task at hand. Repair and replace the water pipes that leach lead and are poisoning families all across America? No, he yawns. Raise the minimum wage to help bridge the dangerous wealth gap separating the superrich from the rest of us? Don’t bother me with such stuff, Mitch snaps. Shut off that gusher of corrupt corporate money pouring into our elections and drowning the people’s democratic rights? Not my problem, shrugs the lumpish ne’er-do-well.

And now a straightforward constitutional duty has been handed to McConnell: Gear up the Senate’s “Advise and Consent” mechanism to approve or reject President Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Scalia. We’ll do it tomorrow, muttered the somnolent senator, content to put off his responsibility to our nation’s system of justice until next year, long after Obama is gone.

We’re paying this guy a salary of $174,000 a year, plus another $19,400 for his “service” as majority leader. It’s insulting that he won’t even go through the motions of doing his job. Of course, saying no to all the chores he ought to be doing for the people is exactly what the corporate sponsors of his Republican Party expect from him. They want an inert and unresponsive government, a poverty-wage economy, a plutocratic election system and a court of their own choosing.

So “Do Nothing” Mitch is their boy. But at the very least, shouldn’t they pay his salary, rather than sticking us with the cost?

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, February 24, 2016

February 25, 2016 Posted by | Corporations, Mitt Romney, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Turn Off The Money And Turn Up The Pressure”: When Will Corporate America Confront Republican Climate Denial?

Much as the world must hope that the governments assembled in Paris achieve their objectives, at the very least they have provided an occasion for business leaders of all descriptions to announce their commitment to climate sanity. With sponsorships, pledges, and official statements, a long list of major corporations has declared that man-made climate change is real and must be reversed to save the earth — and their profits.

Easy as it is to lampoon the professions of these corporate leaders, there should be little doubt that some and perhaps most are sincere. They’re sentient human beings, after all, whose children and grandchildren will have no choice but to live on this endangered planet. They say that is why they’ve publicly expressed support for successful negotiations in Paris and promised to reduce carbon emissions while using and investing in clean energy.

According to the White House, many of those firms have made still more stringent vows, to cut emissions by 50 percent, to reduce water waste by as much as 80 percent, to send no more solid waste to landfills, to purchase only renewable power, and to stop causing deforestation. All of which sounds marvelous and necessary – but what would American corporations do if they really, truly, seriously wanted to stop climate change?

They would do what they do whenever they want to influence any important policy change, of course: Deny financing to political forces on the other side, and deploy their enormous lobbying clout against those forces.

Today, that would mean giving not another dime to House and Senate Republicans – or to any Republican presidential candidate who denies climate realities and insists on reversing President Obama’s current initiatives.

As a matter of policy, the Republican Party obstructs any serious effort to prevent catastrophic climate change. And because the United States is still the largest carbon polluter per capita in the world — and now the second largest in absolute terms – Republican obstruction has worldwide consequences. Just this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell barked an ominous warning to the world leaders meeting in Paris, saying that the next GOP president could simply “tear up” all of Obama’s efforts to diminish power-plant pollution.

The myopic McConnell (whose home state of Kentucky produces dirty coal), has gone even further, sending his aides to foreign embassies with the message that none of America’s international partners can rely on commitments made by Obama in Paris. Unfortunately, McConnell’s irresponsible conduct is merely typical of his party’s leadership.

But the Republican hostility to climate science is a minority viewpoint in the United States, as polling data has demonstrated clearly for years. Two out of three Americans view climate change as a global menace and support a binding international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases. More than half want the United States to lead the world in dealing with that threat. Even a majority of Republican voters understand that an overheating planet is dangerous, and support the power-plant regulations that McConnell and his Senate caucus oppose.

Republican Congressional leaders in both houses know they can continue to lie and deny on climate, so long as the nation’s business leaders fail to demand change. Although they will always collect millions from ExxonMobil, the Koch brothers, and assorted fossil fuel profiteers, they might begin to worry if other economic interests that have traditionally supported them suddenly turned off the money and turned on the pressure.

From Goldman Sachs to General Mills, from Microsoft to Monsanto to McDonalds, scores of major companies have signed the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Change Pledge. By doing so they affirmed support for “action on climate change and the conclusion of a climate change agreement in Paris that takes a strong step forward toward a low-carbon, sustainable future.”

Companies like these have huge lobbying, political action, public relations, and advertising budgets – and all of them could well afford to spend even more on such a crucial issue.

No doubt they would risk trouble with the Congressional Republicans if they took strong political action on climate. But they claim to believe their future at stake, along with the future of generations to come. So if they wish to accomplish more than green-washing their reputations, then the time is surely coming when the corporate environmentalists will have to confront the Republican Party – or be exposed as frauds.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, Featured Post; The National Memo, December 4, 2015

December 5, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Corporations, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How Much ‘Free Speech’ Can You Buy?”: Citizens United Produced A Platinum Class Of Mega-Donors And Corporate Super PACs

In today’s so-called “democratic” election process, Big Money doesn’t talk, it roars — usually drowning out the people’s voice.

Bizarrely, the Supreme Court decreed in its 2010 Citizens United ruling that money is a form of “free speech.” Thus, declared the learned justices, people and corporations are henceforth allowed to spend unlimited sums of their money to “speak” in election campaigns. But wait — if political speech is measured by money then by definition speech is not free. It can be bought, thereby giving the most speech to the few with the most money. That’s plutocracy, not democracy.

Sure enough, in the first six months of this presidential election cycle, more than half of the record-setting $300 million given to the various candidates came from only 358 mega-rich families and the corporations they control. The top 158 of them totaled $176 million in political spending, meaning that, on average, each one of them bought more than a million dollars’ worth of “free” speech.

Nearly all of their money is backing Republican presidential hopefuls who promise: (1) to cut taxes on the rich; (2) cut regulations that protect us from corporate pollution and other abuses of the common good; and (3) to cut Social Security, food stamps and other safety-net programs that we un-rich people need. The great majority of Americans adamantly oppose all of those cuts — but none of us has a million bucks to buy an equivalent amount of political “free” speech.

It’s not just cuts to taxes, regulations and some good public programs that are endangered by the Court’s ridiculous ruling, but democracy itself. That’s why a new poll by Bloomberg Politics found that 78 percent of the American people — including 80 percent of Republicans — want to overturn Citizens United. But those 358 families, corporations and Big Money politicos will have none of it. In fact, America’s inane, Big Money politics have become so prevalent in this election cycle that — believe it or not — candidates have found a need for yet another campaign consultant.

Already, candidates are walled off from people, reality and any honesty about themselves by a battalion of highly specialized consultants controlling everything from stances to hairstyle. But now comes a whole new category of staff to add to the menagerie: “donor maintenance manager.”

The Supreme Court’s malevolent Citizens United decision has produced an insidious platinum class of mega-donors and corporate super PACs, each pumping $500,000, $5 million, $50 million — or even more — into campaigns. These elites are not silent donors, but boisterous, very special interests who are playing in the new, Court-created political money game for their own gain. Having paid to play, they feel entitled to tell candidates what to say and do, what to support and oppose. A Jeb Bush insider confirms that mega-donors have this attitude: “Donors consider a contribution like, ‘Well, wait, I just invested in you. Now I need to have my say; you need to answer to me.’”

Thus, campaigns are assigning donor maintenance managers to be personal concierges to meet every need and whim of these special ones. This subservience institutionalizes the plutocratic corruption of our democratic elections, allowing a handful of super-rich interests to buy positions of overbearing influence directly inside campaigns.

Donors at the million-dollar-and-up level are expecting much more than a tote bag for their “generous gifts” of “free speech.” Of course, candidates piously proclaim, “I’m not for sale.” But politicians are just the delivery service. The actual products being bought through the Supreme Court’s Money-O-Rama political bazaar are our government’s policies, tax breaks and other goodies — as well as the integrity of America’s democratic process. To help fight the injustice of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and get Big Money out of our political system, go to www.FreeSpeechForPeople.org.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, October 28, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Citizens United, Corporations, Democracy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Deferred Prosecution Agreements”: Criminals Should Get Same Leniency As Corporations, Judge Says

For years, when corporations paid big fines to escape prosecution for their misdeeds, critics fumed. Why, they asked, shouldn’t big companies be treated like common criminals?

A federal judge turned that question on its head this week as he lamented being asked to approve yet another corporate settlement. Perhaps, he said, common criminals ought to be treated more like big companies.

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, took aim at a favorite tool of the Obama administration for addressing corporate wrongdoing: a form of probation known as a deferred prosecution agreement. If companies behave for the length of the agreement, the matter is closed without any criminal record.

The judge said individual defendants should enjoy the same opportunities. While it is not uncommon for judges to criticize outcomes that they see as unjust, it is highly unusual for them to so explicitly advocate — and at such great length — a change in approach.

Judge Sullivan’s 84-page opinion — in what could have been a short, straightforward decision — is the latest influential voice to join a growing chorus of both liberals and conservatives who see the American criminal justice system as fundamentally unfair.

The ruling comes amid a rapidly changing environment: The White House is approving clemency applications at historically high rates; support is coalescing on Capitol Hill to ease sentencing laws; and law enforcement leaders around the country have declared that too many Americans are in prison for too long. Though the federal prison population has declined for the first time in decades, America remains the world’s largest jailer by far; its prison population nearly equals China’s and Russia’s combined.

Justice Department officials agree in principle with Judge Sullivan’s critique and have encouraged Congress to ease tough sentencing laws that were passed at the height of the crack epidemic. Emily Pierce, a department spokeswoman, noted that under an initiative begun in 2013, prosecutors were already ordered to prioritize more serious crimes, while looking for alternatives to prison for low-level offenders. Fewer low-level criminals being charged means fewer people eligible for deferred prosecution. The department has also strongly supported drug courts, which essentially offer the same second chance that companies are given.

At the same time, the Justice Department recently promised to get tough on corporate executives after years of criticism in the aftermath of the financial crisis that bankers, in particular, escaped punishment because their companies agreed to pay big fines. It was that promise, followed days later by a deferred-prosecution agreement with General Motors, that ignited Judge Sullivan’s fury.

Judge Sullivan was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton. He previously served as a municipal judge and a local appellate judge in Washington, having been appointed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

He called G.M.’s $900 million settlement “a shocking example of potentially culpable individuals not being criminally charged.” G.M. admitted that it misled the public about auto defects, but neither the company nor its executives were prosecuted, “despite the fact that the reprehensible conduct of its employees resulted in the deaths of many people.”

“The court is disappointed that deferred-prosecution agreements or other similar tools are not being used to provide the same opportunity to individual defendants to demonstrate their rehabilitation without triggering the devastating collateral consequences of a criminal conviction,” Judge Sullivan wrote.

Justice Department figures show deferred-prosecution agreements are rare for both individuals and companies. But the number of cases against organizations and companies is so tiny — 150 or so each year, compared with 160,000 or more individual prosecutions — that these deals occur at a much higher rate in corporate cases, which also tend to be higher profile.

Deferred-prosecution deals are attractive because they spare companies the consequence of criminal convictions, such as stock collapse and a loss of contracts. For people, the effects can be even more severe. The American Bar Association has identified tens of thousands of consequences of criminal conviction, which demonstrates how a single arrest can cost people their jobs and homes.

President Obama has indicated that he will make a criminal justice overhaul one of the most important issues of his remaining time in office. He became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. On Thursday, he defended the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been criticized by police unions in particular as being anti-police. Mr. Obama plans to speak about changing the criminal justice system next week at the annual meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Chicago.

Much of the public debate has focused on reducing the prison population by cutting sentences for those serving long sentences for nonviolent crimes. Lost in the debate, Judge Sullivan said, has been the importance of keeping people out of jail in the first place. “This oversight is lamentable, to say the least!” he wrote.

He said criminal justice reform should offer people “the chance to demonstrate their true character and avoid the catastrophic consequences of felony convictions.”

While Judge Sullivan cannot make policy from the bench, the opinion shows the momentum behind efforts to improve the system, said Norman L. Reimer, the executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

“It has finally seeped into the public consciousness that there is something wrong,” he said. “All of a sudden, a nation wakes up and realizes we’ve created this unbelievable cadre of second-class citizens.”

 

By: Matt Apuzzo, The New York Times, October 23, 2015

October 25, 2015 Posted by | Corporate Crime, Corporations, Criminal Justice System, Deferred Prosecution Agreements | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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