SUPREME COURT: Corporate America’s Favorite Jurists Return
October 05, 2010, 2:00am

Few cases define the Roberts Court like the recent decision in Citizens United v. FEC. With a wave of their hands, the Court’s five conservatives opened the floodgates to allow billions of corporate dollars to spill into American democracy. As a result, outside interest groups — most of which are aligned with conservatives — have already spent five times as much on this midterm election cycle as they did in 2006. And Citizens United is only the tip of the Court’s corporate iceberg. The justices have consistently favored employers over workers and polluters over the environment — and it has gone out of its way to slam the doors of justice shut on ordinary Americans. With the Court’s new term beginning this week, the justices have a few opportunities to correct past errors. Sadly, the Roberts majority is far more likely to find new ways to declare corporate America to be above the law.

THE SQUEEZE ON WORKERS: In its first full term together, the Roberts majority handed down its infamous Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire decision, which cut off access to equal pay for equal work for many women. Moreover, when Congress swiftly overturned this egregious decision, the conservative justices responded — not with the humility Chief Justice Roberts promised in his confirmation hearing — but with an equally indefensible decision limiting the rights of older workers. This term, the justices have three more opportunities to examine whether corporations can be held accountable when they illegally mistreat their workers. In Staub v. Proctor Hospital, the Court will decide whether the law protects workers who are fired after a junior supervisor convinces a senior manager to fire the worker, not because of any legitimate reason, but because the supervisor objects to the worker’s race, gender or service in the military. This term also presents two important cases on the right of workers to be free from unlawful retaliation in the workplace. In Thompson v. North American Stainless the Court will decide whether an employer can strike back at a worker who complains about discrimination by firing the worker’s fiancée. And in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., the Court will decide whether employees who verbally complain that their right to a fair wage is being violated are protected against illegal retaliation or whether they must put these complaints into writing.

SIGNING AWAY YOUR RIGHTS: One of corporate America’s most common and abusive assaults on workers and consumers is a practice known as “forced arbitration.” Before many banks, cell phone companies, employers, or even nursing homes will do business with a consumer, worker, or patient they force that individual to sign away their right to sue the company in a real court. Instead, they require that any disputes be brought in a secretive, privatized arbitration system that overwhelming favors corporate parties. This privatized justice system exists solely because the Supreme Court allowed it to exist in a series of opinions stretching back into the 1980s, and the Court’s conservatives expanded corporate power to force consumers into arbitration as recently as last June. This term, in a case called AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the justices will decide whether corporations can also force consumers to sign away their right to bring a class-action lawsuit before the arbitrator in addition to forcing consumers into a privatized justice system. If the Court sides with the corporate party in this case, it would enable corporations to break the law a few dollars at a time — because class action suits are often the only way to hold a company accountable when it inflicts a small-dollar injury on hundreds or thousands of people.

THE HOT BUTTONS: Although the Court’s pro-corporate bent is one of its most defining features, corporate immunity is hardly the only thing on this term’s docket. In one of the most important cases this term, Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, the justices will decide whether to follow the longstanding rule that policy decisions that are intimately connected to foreign policy — such as immigration — should be made by national leaders and not by fifty different state legislatures. Two other cases on the Court’s docket could provide a window into how the justices will treat the administration’s controversial use of the “state secrets” doctrine to get rid of cases challenging U.S. anti-terror policy. In these two cases, the justices will decide whether the government can sue a military contractor, then invoke state secrets to limit the contractor’s ability to defend against the claim. Finally, another closely watched case could test the limits of how far the First Amendment extends to protect the most hateful and disgusting kinds of protests. In Snyder v. Phelps, the justices will consider whether Fred Phelps’ toxic blend of anti-gay hate speech must be tolerated when Phelps and his hate group surround a military funeral with hateful picketers.

Think Fast

MSNBC is embracing a new “progressive political identity,” with the tagline “Lean Forward.” “It’s an umbrella that’s pretty wide, but that does have a progressive sensibility,” said MSNBC President Phil Griffin. “We’re confident. We’re strong. Let’s not live in the past, let’s not live by fear.”

This year, Republican candidates have been “noticeably absent” from public events, televised interviews, and debates, “out of fear of a gotcha moment that will come back to haunt them.” Tea party candidates have been especially reticent, and “the lengths to which some of the hopefuls have gone — such as refusing to release public schedules to local reporters — have astounded veteran political observers.”

In her first campaign ad of the general election, Christine O’Donnell (R) assures voters that she is “not a witch.” O’Donnell addresses the camera directly and tells voters that she isn’t perfect, but rather: “I’m you.”

The U.S. transportation system is failing, according to a bipartisan panel of experts. Their report, released yesterday, says that American infrastructure is in severe need of repair and the problem will lead to “a steady erosion of the social and economic foundations for American prosperity in the long run.”

The White House has announced that it will be installing solar panels on its roof, following last month’s attempt by global warming activists to deliver panels to the Oval Office. The “solar panels — which will be installed by spring 2011 — will heat water and supply some of the first family’s electricity.”

Families of 9/11 victims yesterday “lost their bid to get the Supreme Court to rule that New York City must provide a proper burial for material taken from the World Trade Center site because it could contain the ashes of victims.” The justices said they would not hear an appeal from the families, whose requests had been denied by lower courts.

In the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board meeting yesterday, two conservative members pressed President Obama to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for two years, “triggering an unexpected debate” over a major election issue. Obama told the former Bush and Reagan appointees that an extension “would turn into a permanent extension” that increases the deficit “with little increase in demand.”

According to data from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, more undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions “are being deported in recent years, driving up the number of people being removed” from the U.S. “Of the 350,000 people deported this year, more than half had criminal convictions, a 55 percent increase since 2008.”

During a discussion yesterday with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the state’s GOP U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul said that Medicaid’s lenient eligibility standards have led to “intergenerational welfare.” Paul said too many people are receiving Medicaid who don’t need it, noting half the state’s births are covered by it.

And finally: Asked about his relationship with President Obama last night on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program, notoriously tan House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) poked fun at himself, saying of their meetings, “But first thing that happens is, you know, I come in and he’ll say Boehner, you’re almost as dark as me.”

Blog Watch

After in-vitro fertilization creator wins Nobel Prize, anti-choicers want to make it illegal.

Tennessee county’s subscription-based firefighters watch as a family’s home burns down.

The nation’s political action is reduced to crowd figures, animated GIFs.

Forcing the Iran warriors to talk honestly.

Terror alerts are useless.

Debating presidential assassinations.

Workers’ rights are in shambles.

Former attorneys general and law professors call for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United.

Daily Grill

“Creating policies that will open the doors of opportunity to families during this difficult economy and create jobs has to be the first priority and I believe will be the first priority if Republicans are given another opportunity to lead.”
— Rep. Mike Pence, 9/30/10


“Pence said although economic issues are important for the country right now, its a lack of morality that pains the nation most. … ‘To those who say that marriage doesn’t matter, I say, ‘you would not be able to print enough money in 1,000 years to pay for the government you would need if the traditional family continues to collapse.'”
— The Iowa Independent, 10/04/10