Too Many Rulings are Supremely Courteous to Corporations


The Walmart case is only one example of the Supreme Court’s growing tendency to side with the interests of big corporations over the rights of ordinary citizens.

Marge BakerBy Marge Baker

Americans realize that our rights and liberties depend on having a system of justice that we can trust. We know we should be able to show up in court to contest anything from a parking ticket to felony and make our case — whether we’re rich or poor.

But there’s one U.S. court where it’s increasingly hard for individual Americans to have their voices heard. The Supreme Court — our court of last resort — is making it harder for individual citizens to hold the rich and powerful accountable.

In recent years, the high court has consistently twisted the law and Constitution to put giant corporations’ profits over the rights of individual Americans. That means it’s getting harder for citizens to seek justice when corporations stiff us.

In June, for instance, the Supreme Court ruled that more than a million women who had suffered wage discrimination as employees of Walmart couldn’t join together to sue the company. Several women had filed a class action suit against the company on behalf of themselves and up to 1.5 million other women who faced similar treatment, seeking to pool their resources in order to go up against one of the most powerful corporations in the world. But the majority opinion ignored what the women had in common and focused instead on the differences bound to arise within a group that large, ruling that they couldn’t go in it together to hold Walmart accountable. By sharply reducing the ability of employees to pool their resources, the court has made it easier for big employers to discriminate.

The Walmart case is only one example of the Supreme Court’s growing tendency to side with the interests of big corporations over the rights of ordinary citizens. Earlier this year, the court ruled that Californians who had fallen prey to an alleged scam by their cell phone company couldn’t join together to hold the company accountable. Because each customer was cheated out of a relatively small amount, few customers would go to the trouble of recovering their money. Many victims had not even noticed the relevant charge in their bill.

For these reasons, only a large class action lawsuit would serve to hold the company accountable. In another case, the court ruled that a financial firm accused of defrauding its investors couldn’t be held liable because the firm had protected itself with a cleverly designed corporate structure. In doing so, the court both ignored the clear meaning of the law and essentially provided financial firms with an instruction manual on how to defraud their clients without being caught.

In the past year, the Supreme Court also handed two big victories to pharmaceutical companies. In one, it ruled that a state couldn’t prohibit the sale or use of pharmacies’ prescription data by drug companies without the prescribing doctor’s authorization. In the other, the court let a pharmaceutical company off the hook for failing to warn about the dangerous side effects of a drug it was selling — a failure that resulted in at least one patient developing a painful and incurable neurological disorder.

Of course, sometimes the law really is on the side of big business. Our justice system requires that big corporations get a fair hearing just as ordinary citizens do. But they don’t deserve more of a voice than the rest of us. The Supreme Court, guided by a right-wing majority, has increasingly bought the convoluted arguments of moneyed corporations lock, stock, and barrel, while turning a blind eye to the law — to say nothing of the impact on ordinary Americans. These decisions don’t just hurt the individuals directly involved in them. They hurt us all, by limiting our rights and sending a signal to the wealthy and powerful that they can go ahead and abuse the rest of us without consequence.

Our founders wrote the Constitution to protect individuals against the whims of the powerful. But too often lately, the Supreme Court has twisted our laws to protect the powerful from being held accountable by individuals. Supreme Court justices and lower federal court judges must defend the Constitution, not twist it beyond recognition.

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3 Comments

Filed under Crime, Human Rights, Opinion, Politics

3 responses to “Too Many Rulings are Supremely Courteous to Corporations

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more, but just complaining about it doesn’t change anything. It is not just the 5 right wing members of the Court that we have to contend with, but the incestuous relationship of many, if not most of our legislators with the powerful, moneyed interests that support them. Conservatives love to quote the founding fathers and the need to strictly adhere to the Constitution, but they don’t tell you that what was created in the formative years of our country, was created by principled statesmen, with a common cause and noble purpose. Can you in your wildest dreams, conceive of that taking place today? Democracy in our country is barely alive and certainly not well. We the majority basically have the same interests and the voting power, but do not use it effectively to our benefit. We are now a multi cultural population with large regional, religious and occupational differences. It is those differences that are exploited by the tiny well placed minority to keep us from joining together to achieve our rights and needs.

    Do we all have to experience the extreme economic deprivation such as we had in the 1930’s, in order for us to come together to make our voices really matter and for democracy to really work? Any ideas?

    • “Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are, in principle, under autocratic control. Thus, a corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fascist, that is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level… Just as I’m opposed to political fascism, I am opposed to economic fascism. I think that until the major institutions of society are under the popular control of participants and communities, it’s pointless to talk about democracy”.
      Noam Chomsky

  2. “There are but two parties; there never have been but two parties, founded in the radical question, whether PEOPLE or PROPERTY shall govern? Democracy implies a government by the people. Aristocracy implies a government of the rich, and in these words are contained the sum of party distinctions”.
    Thomas Benton (American 19th century statesman)

    My idea is to have publicly funded elections, not wealthy/corporate funded hate-fests that we now call elections. The campaign season should also be limited to…I dunno, maybe 6 months?

    The SCOTUS is comprised of obviously wealthy people. Poor folks cannot afford to be educated enough to be on the SCOTUS. I know SOME justices attempt to speak for the middle/poor classes, but really?…not having experienced what we have, they cannot appreciate the burden of the working poor.

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