We write frequently about the extraordinarily pro-corporate leanings of the current Supreme Court, where the Justices bend the law and twist logic in order to rule in favor of large corporate interests and against the rights of individuals harmed by those interests. In the past week, two new studies have provided powerful numbers to back up the trend.
In a report released on Thursday, the Constitutional Accountability Center found that the corporate lobbying group U.S. Chamber of Commerce has won a stunning two-thirds of the cases that it has been involved with before the Roberts Court. And this weekend, The New York Times reported on a new study from the Minnesota Law Review that found that the current Supreme Court’s five conservative justices have sided with corporate interests at a greater rate than most justices since World War II. In fact, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both George W. Bush nominees, are the two most pro-corporate Supreme Court justices to sit in the past 65 years:
The Times writes:
But the business docket reflects something truly distinctive about the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. While the current court’s decisions, over all, are only slightly more conservative than those from the courts led by Chief Justices Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, according to political scientists who study the court, its business rulings are another matter. They have been, a new study finds, far friendlier to business than those of any court since at least World War II.
In the eight years since Chief Justice Roberts joined the court, it has allowed corporations to spend freely in elections in the Citizens United case, has shielded them from class actions and human rights suits, and has made arbitration the favored way to resolve many disputes. Business groups say the Roberts court’s decisions have helped combat frivolous lawsuits, while plaintiffs’ lawyers say the rulings have destroyed legitimate claims for harm from faulty products, discriminatory practices and fraud.
Published last month in The Minnesota Law Review, the study ranked the 36 justices who served on the court over those 65 years by the proportion of their pro-business votes; all five of the current court’s more conservative members were in the top 10. But the study’s most striking finding was that the two justices most likely to vote in favor of business interests since 1946 are the most recent conservative additions to the court, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., both appointed by President George W. Bush.
A new study from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service [pdf] quantifies the extent to which Senate Republicans have been stalling President Obama’s judicial nominees. Through this persistent obstruction, Senate Republicans have kept the chamber mired in gridlock, thrown the federal courts into an historic vacancy crisis, and prevented President Obama from restoring ideological balance to a system still dominated by George W. Bush nominees.
The study finds that President Obama’s judicial nominees – including those with no partisan opposition – face extraordinary wait times for simple yes-or-no votes from the Senate.
CRS notes that “President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year.” In particular, the study notes, the wait times for district court nominees – whose decisions do not bind other courts and who have historically been approved quickly and without controversy – have shot up in the past four years:
Where President Obama’s judicial nominees face the greatest delays is between approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee and a vote from the full Senate. Because the Senate must have unanimous consent or invoke cloture to hold an up-or-down vote, senators in the minority can quietly filibuster judicial nominees for months without giving a reason for delaying the votes. For instance, Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, who was nominated to a seat on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, was forced to wait nine months for a vote from the full Senate, despite the fact that he was supported by both of his home state’s conservative Republican senators. In the end, he was confirmed unanimously.
Perhaps the starkest example of Republican obstruction under President Obama is the gridlock that completely unopposed judicial nominees have faced. CRS finds that President Obama’s unopposed district court nominees have waited nearly three times as long for a Senate vote as did President Bush’s and nearly six times as long as President Clinton’s. His unopposed circuit court nominees have waited over four times as long as President Bush’s and seven times as long as President Bush’s.
It’s important to note also that many more of President Obama’s nominees would count as unopposed – making these numbers even more dramatic -- if Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah hadn’t spent a year opposing every one of President Obama’s judicial nominees in protest of a completely unrelated issue.
Last week, we reported on the creative and constitutionally questionable efforts by Iowa Republicans to punish the state supreme court justices who issued the state’s landmark marriage equality ruling.
Now, Wisconsin Republicans are up to something similar, seeking to strip county circuit court judges of the ability to issue preliminary injunctions on laws that may be unconstitutional. The measure, which was introduced last month and had public hearings yesterday, is widely seen as a reaction to judicial injunctions on efforts by state Republicans to impose voter ID requirements and limit collective bargaining rights.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains:
With some of their major legislative achievements thwarted by trial courts in the past two years, Wisconsin Republicans have been looking for ways to rein in local judges, particularly in liberal areas such as Dane County.
Since 2011, circuit court judges have blocked all or parts of laws backed by Republicans that required voters to show photo ID at the polls, limited collective bargaining for public employees and expanded the governor's power over administrative rules. Under a measure announced last month, such injunctions would be automatically stayed as soon as they were appealed - meaning laws that were blocked would be put back in effect until a higher court issued a ruling.
The state’s nonpartisan Legislative Council is now warning that the bill is likely unconstitutional.
Incidentally, one of the bill’s sponsors is state Sen. Glenn Grothman, who last year tried to get a state public health agency to list single parenthood listed as “a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.”
The current Supreme Court’s pro-corporate leanings have resulted in a huge spike in rulings favoring corporations over individual Americans, according to a new report from the Constitutional Accountability Center. MSNBC’s Zachary Roth goes through the report’s findings, including that under Chief Justice Roberts, the behemoth corporate lobbying group the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has won a full two-thirds of the Supreme Court cases in which it has been involved:
The major result of the Chamber’s success, legal scholars say, has been a string of rulings that threaten to block the courthouse door to ordinary Americans looking to hold corporations accountable. And with court-watchers’ attention focused on higher-profile gay marriage and voting rights cases this term, it’s a development that’s flown largely under the radar.
The Roberts Court’s pro-business outlook has been apparent for several years. But the CAC report suggests it may be accelerating. Both the Chamber’s participation rate and its success rate have risen significantly in recent years. This term, the Chamber filed amicus briefs in 24% of cases, up from 10% during the latter part of the Rehnquist Court, from 1994 to 2005, a period of stability when there were no changes to court personnel. And since John Roberts became Chief Justice, the Chamber has won 69% of the cases in which it’s gotten involved (see chart below). That’s up from 56% during the latter part of the Rehnquist Court, and just 43% during the last five years of the Burger Court, from 1981 to 1986.
Jamie Raskin, Senior Fellow of People For the American Way Foundation, chronicled the “Rise of the Corporate Court” in a 2010 report. He wrote:
Americans across the spectrum have been startled and appalled by the Citizens United decision, which will "open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign companies—to spend without limit in our elections," as President Obama said in his 2010 State of the Union Address. According to a Washington Post nationwide poll, more than 80% of the American people reject the Court's conclusion that a business corporation is a member of the political community entitled to the same free speech rights as citizens.
Yet, the Court's watershed ruling is the logical expression of an activist pro-corporatist jurisprudence that has been bubbling up for many decades on the Court but has gained tremendous momentum over the last generation. Since the Rehnquist Court, there have been at least five justices—and sometimes more—who tilt hard to the right when it comes to a direct showdown between corporate power and the public interest. During the Roberts Court, this trend has continued and intensified. Although there is still some fluidity among the players, it is reasonable to think of a reliable "corporate bloc" as having emerged on the Court.
What is striking today, however, is how often the Roberts Court, like its predecessor the Rehnquist Court, hands down counter-intuitive 5-4 victories to corporations by ignoring clear precedents, twisting statutory language and distorting legislative intent. From labor and workplace law to environmental law, from consumer regulation to tort law and the all-important election law, the conservative-tilting Court has reached out to enshrine and elevate the power of business corporations --what some people have begun to call "corporate Americans"--over the rights of the old-fashioned human beings called citizens.
With Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy in the driver's seat today, the "least dangerous" branch of government now routinely runs over our laws and our politics to clear the road for corporate interests. When it comes to political democracy and social progress, the Supreme Court today is the most dangerous branch. The road back to strong democracy requires sustained attention to how the Court is thwarting justice and the rule of law in service of corporate litigants.
A poll commissioned by People For the American Way and fellow progressive groups late last year found that the Corporate Court was a concern for a majority of voters.
President Obama yesterday nominated three highly qualified candidates to federal district court judgeships in Illinois. The nominations of Colin Stirling Bruce, Sara Lee Ellis and Andrea R. Wood underscore the president’s commitment to bringing qualified, diverse candidates to the federal bench. Two of the three nominees, Ellis and Wood, are African-American women. Wood brings unique professional diversity to the bench: she currently works for the enforcement division of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which helps keep financial companies accountable to voters and consumers.
Yesterday, the Senate unanimously confirmed Iowa’s Jane Kelly to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Kelly, who currently serves as a federal public defender, becomes “only the second woman, and the first public defender, to serve in the history of the court that was established in 1891,” according to the Iowa City Gazette.
Kelly also makes history by having the quickest confirmation process of any of President Obama’s appeals court nominees so far, according to the Gazette. Kelly waited just 33 days for a confirmation vote, compared to the average 153 day wait for President Obama’s circuit court nominees (as of two weeks ago). Kelly’s quick confirmation, however, would not have been at all noteworthy at this point in George W. Bush administration, when appellate nominees waited an average of just 37 days between committee approval and Senate confirmation.
Kelly’s speedy confirmation may have something to do with the senators supporting her. Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee has been instrumental in obstructing President Obama’s judicial nominees, seemed to put aside his obstruction habits for a nominee from his own state.
Iowa Republicans are determined to remove the nine state supreme court justices who ruled unanimously in 2009 to allow same-sex marriage in the state, and they'll try just about anything. In 2010, anti-gay groups funded a successful campaign to oust three justices in retention elections. Then Iowa anti-gay leader Bob Vander Plaats called for the remaining justices to resign. When that didn't work, state Republicans then tried to impeach them. Last year, an effort to remove a fourth justice failed at the ballot box. So now Iowa Republicans are trying a different strategy, proposing to dramatically lower the salaries of the remaining judges who were involved in the marriage equality decision. The Iowa City Gazette reports:
A handful of House conservatives want to reduce the pay of Iowa Supreme Court justices involved in a 2009 decision striking down a ban on same-sex marriages as part of an effort to maintain the balance of power in state government.
“It’s our responsibility to maintain the balance of power” between the three co-equal branches of government, Rep. Tom Shaw, R-Laurens, said Tuesday.
The justices “trashed the separation of powers” with their unanimous Varnum v. Brien decision and implementation of same-sex marriage without a change in state law banning any marriages expect between one man and one woman, added Rep. Dwayne Alons, R-Hull.
Their amendment to House File 120, the judicial branch budget bill, would lower the salaries of the four justices on the seven-member court who were part of the unanimous Varnum v. Brein decision to $25,000 – the same as a state legislator.
It’s not meant to be punitive, Alons and Shaw said Tuesday.
“We’re just holding them responsible for their decision, for going beyond their bounds,” Shaw said.
“It’s not the merits of what they said in that decision,” added Alons. He’s trying to stop “an encroaching wave” of judicial activity including decisions on nude dancing and landowner liability – decisions the Legislature also is trying to correct through legislation this session.
The chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee tells Gazette “that a plan to pay justices differently based on their role in one case would be unlikely to withstand a court challenge.”
Journalist Andrew Cohen, writing for the Brennan Center for Justice, explains how attempts to portray today’s Republican filibusters as routine “tit-for-tat” maneuvers are misleading:
By trying not to be partisan, at least in this area of political coverage, we journalists are in many ways becoming more partisan than we fear. James Fallows, the author and longtime correspondent at The Atlantic, has been preaching for years now about “false equivalence” in reporting about the Senate’s current gridlock. He has called out reporters and editors, producers and television hosts, headline writers and analysts, for their continuing failure to call it like it really is when it comes to these Senate votes. For example, on Wednesday, in the wake of the background check vote, which “passed” the Senate by a vote of 54-46 but effectively “failed” because of the threat of a filibuster, Fallows again explained the concept. He wrote:
Since the Democrats regained majority control of the Senate six years ago, the Republicans under Mitch McConnell have applied filibuster threats (under a variety of names) at a frequency not seen before in American history. Filibusters used to be exceptional. Now they are used as blocking tactics for nearly any significant legislation or nomination. The goal of this strategy, which maximizes minority blocking power in a way not foreseen in the Constitution, has been to make the 60-vote requirement seem routine. As part of the "making it routine" strategy, the minority keeps repeating that it takes 60 votes to "pass" a bill — and this Orwellian language-redefinition comes one step closer to fulfillment each time the press presents 60 votes as the norm for passing a law.
News consumers, in other words, are led to believe that what is happening is just “politics as usual,” tit-for-tat, part of the murky vote-counting calculus that has always been a part of the Senate’s rules. But there is now ample evidence to suggest that this tactic has fundamentally changed the way Congress works. In 2009 alone, the Brennan Center’s Diana Kasdan told me last week, “there was double the number of filibusters that occurred in the entire 20-year period from 1950-1969, when they were used repeatedly and notoriously to block civil rights legislation.” In other words, today’s abuse of the filibuster is extraordinary. Yet Fallows gives many examples — actual headlines, probably hundreds of them over the years — in which journalists have refused or failed to properly communicate this to their audience. Without adequate context and perspective about what is happening in the Senate, the American people are hampered in how quickly they can force their elected officials to change (or, more accurately, to change their elected officials).
In fact, as we have reported here, today’s GOP has taken Senate obstruction to an extraordinary new level.
Back in September, PFAW senior fellow Jamie Raskin wrote a preview of the major cases coming before the Supreme Court this term, one of which, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, deals with the ability of foreign nationals to sue corporations for human rights abuses in American courts. The Supreme Court today issued a sweeping ruling siding with the multinational corporations accused of abuse. Main Justice sums up the facts of the case:
The plaintiffs accuse Royal Dutch, the Shell Transport and Trading Company and their joint Nigerian subsidy of allowing, indeed encouraging, atrocities by the Nigerian military against people who were protesting environmental damage caused by drilling in the Niger Delta in the 1990s. The companies were complicit in beatings, rapes and mass arrests by paying the soldiers, feeding them and allowing them to use oil company property as staging areas for their attacks, the plaintiffs maintain.
At issue was the application of the Alien Tort Statute, enacted in 1789, that gives United States courts jurisdiction over civil actions brought by aliens alleging torts committed in violation of United States treaties or international law. The seldom-used ATS was enacted partly in response to piracy on the high seas. The Nigerian plaintiffs, now legal residents of the United States, tried to use it in a present-day context.
As Jamie Raskin wrote in his Supreme Court preview, the Second Circuit radically twisted legal precedent in this case to rule that individuals could not sue corporations under the Alien Tort Statute:
Jurisdiction to hear the suit was clear. In 2004, the Supreme Court held, in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, that the Alien Tort Statute gave federal courts jurisdiction to hear claims about torts committed against aliens that violate well-established international norms like the human rights norms implicated in this case. Yet a bitterly divided Second Circuit panel in Kiobel held for the first time that the statute does not allow courts to hear suits against corporations as opposed to individuals. The Kiobel majority’s ruling on this issue was amazing since the issue was never raised, never briefed, never argued and never decided in any of the proceedings below that took place over the course of nearly a decade. (This rings a bell for close observers of the Citizens United majority, which also pulled a rabbit out of a hat to ask and answer a question never raised below.)
Today, the Roberts Court agreed. The Court unanimously ruled against the Nigerians in Kiobel, but disagreed about how far the ruling should go. Justice Roberts, writing for the conservative majority, wrote a broad ruling in favor of the corporations accused of human rights abuses. The four moderate justices concurred with the majority’s ruling on this particular case, but left the door open for similar cases to be tried in U.S. Courts. Main Justice explains:
Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote that the defendants’ “minimal and indirect presence in the United States was not enough to give American courts jurisdiction over the case.” But he stopped short of declaring that similar cases should never end up in American courts if the abuse at issue “adversely affects an important American national interest.” Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan agreed with him.
Nicole Flatow at ThinkProgress explains the possible implications of the majority’s ruling:
This decision not only means that Nigerians cannot sue foreign corporations for their conduct abroad. On this particular point, the four-justice Breyer concurrence agreed that this case did not pass muster. Roberts’ sweeping pronouncement against extraterritoriality may also mean that foreign nationals subject to abuse, for example, at the hands of a U.S. corporation that houses its factories in places whose laws shield it from liability, or an American citizen who commits human rights violations abroad against foreigners, also could not be subject to suit in the United States.
The scope of the opinion will not become clear until it is interpreted by courts. Extraterritoriality is a legal concept that asks not just whether conduct took place abroad, but also whether the claims “touch and concern the territory of the United States” such that a plaintiff can overcome the presumption against them. The only hint the court gives is that lawsuits against corporations will face a particularly heavy burden, noting, “Corporations are often present in many countries, and it would reach too far to say that mere corporate presence suffices.”
What is clear is that the presumption is exceedingly difficult to overcome, and that both individuals and corporations have a high chance of skirting liability simply by doing their dirty work elsewhere.
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Sri Srinivasan to sit on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Srinivasan, who was first nominated ten months ago yet is just now receiving a hearing, is the latest Obama judicial nominee caught in the web of Senate obstruction. Last month, Republicans blocked the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to a seat on the same court, despite her impeccable qualifications and strong bipartisan backing. Some important facts to keep in mind during and after today’s hearing:
Our federal courts are suffering because of entrenched Republican obstruction. Because of both public and silent Republican filibusters, President Obama’s appeals court nominees have been forced to wait an average of 153 days between Judiciary Committee approval and a yes-or-no vote from the Senate. At this point in Bush’s presidency, the average wait for confirmed appeals court nominees was just 37 days. The foot-dragging is unrelated to who the nominee is – even consensus nominees with the strong support of their Republican home-state senators have been forced to wait for months through active or silent filibusters before the Senate is finally allowed to hold a confirmation vote. This pointless obstruction, which is echoed at the district court level, has led to persistently high vacancy rates and longer waits for Americans seeking their day in court.
WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed Judge Patty Shwartz of New Jersey to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a 64 to 34 vote today, over one year after her nomination was sent to the Senate floor for a vote. Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, released the following statement:
“The absurd delay of Patty Shwartz’s confirmation is emblematic of a Republican Party determined to obstruct the American people’s business at all costs. Judge Shwartz is indisputably qualified and supported by New Jersey’s legal leaders and elected officials from both parties, including Gov. Christie and both of the state’s U.S. senators. The only thing stopping the Senate from voting on her nomination was a 13-month Republican silent filibuster supported by flimsy excuses.
“The delay in confirming Judge Shwartz is sadly not unusual. President Obama’s confirmed circuit court nominees have been forced to wait an average of 153 days from Judiciary Committee approval to floor vote. By contrast, George W. Bush’s circuit court nominees at this point in his presidency waited an average of just 37 days. This deliberate slow-walking of nominees is obstructing Senate business, exacerbating a vacancy crisis in our federal courts, and deterring highly qualified individuals from putting themselves forward to serve on the federal bench.
“This summer, two more Third Circuit judgeships will become vacant. We hope that Senate Republicans will allow these vacancies to be filled in a timely manner.”
U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, who was investigated for misconduct by a judicial committee, will retire May 3rd. This represents a sudden, unexpected, and publicly unexplained change from his decision to continue hearing cases as a senior judge, which went into effect just two weeks ago. In response, People For the American Way president Michael Keegan released the following statement:
“After many months of investigation, Judge Cebull’s actions seem to have finally caught up with him. Cebull apparently hoped to avoid sanction by taking senior status before the misconduct investigation concluded. Fortunately, his gambit to avoid accountability was ultimately unsuccessful.
“Retirement was the only appropriate action for Cebull to take. He used his official email account to send an incredibly disgusting and racist email. When asked why, he said he sent it because he opposes the president.
“Americans expect the courts to be fair, impartial, and open to all. Cebull clearly demonstrated that he does not have the temperament to serve as a federal judge. His retirement, and the thorough investigation by the Ninth Circuit that precipitated it, are encouraging signs of a commitment to fairness and impartiality in the federal judiciary.”
WorldNetDaily must be pleased with this “scoop”: former GOP congressman and third party presidential candidate Virgil Goode has joined Alabama Republican activist Hugh McInnish in filing a lawsuit arguing that President Obama is not eligible to be president.
But the story gets better: the attorney representing them is Larry Klayman.
And the story gets even better: the judge hearing the case is none other than Roy Moore.
Moore, who was recently returned to office as chief justice of Alabama’s state Supreme Court after he was removed from the post in 2003 for refusing to obey a court order to remove his Ten Commandments monument, is no fan of Obama.
WND also notes that Moore has defended birther hero Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin, who said he won’t follow deployment orders because he deemed any order from Obama to be illegitimate, and the increasingly unstable Klayman has praised Moore’s “integrity and legal acumen.”
Now, 2012 Constitution Party presidential nominee Virgil Goode and Alabama Republican Party leader Hugh McInnish are asking the state’s highest court to force Secretary of State Beth Chapman to verify that all candidates on the state’s 2012 ballot were eligible to serve.
Attorney Larry Klayman, founder of the Washington, D.C.-watch dog Judicial Watch and now head of Freedom Watch, filed the appeal Tuesday with the Alabama Supreme Court, asking for oral arguments.
“We are hopeful that Chief Justice Moore and the rest of the jurists on the Alabama Supreme Court will follow the law,” Klayman told WND.
Klayman says he and his team “have great respect for Chief Justice Moore and his integrity and legal acumen.”
“He is one courageous and brave man. There are few in this country.”
The case is an appeal of a dismissal by the Montgomery Circuit Court.
In his brief, Klayman says “credible evidence and information from an official source” was presented to Chapman before the election indicating Obama might not have been qualified for Oval Office.
The complaint argues Chapman failed her constitutional duty as secretary of state to verify the eligibility of candidates.
Moore is on the record questioning Obama’s eligibility.
In an interview with WND in 2010, he defended Lt. Col Terrence Lakin’s demand that President Obama prove his eligibility as commander in chief as a condition of obeying deployment orders.
Moore said he had seen no convincing evidence that Obama is a natural-born citizen and much evidence that suggests he is not.
Moore said Lakin “not only has a right to follow his personal convictions under the Constitution, he has a duty.”
“And if the authority running the efforts of the war is not a citizen in violation of the Constitution, the order is unlawful,” he said.
Klayman asserts the secretary of state “has an affirmative duty that stems from her oath of office under both the U.S. and Alabama Constitutions, to protect the citizens from fraud and other misconduct by candidates.”
As a result of her refusal to investigate the qualifications of candidates for president, Klayman says, “a person believed to be unqualified for that office has been elected.”
The remedy, he said, “is to require each candidate to do what every teenager is required to do to get a learner’s permit.”
“It is to produce a bona fide birth certificate … and the Secretary of State is the official to cause that to happen.”
McInnish is a member of the Madison County Republican Executive Committee and also sits on the state Republican Executive Committee.
Citing the investigation of Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Cold Case Posse, Klayman says Chapman “gained knowledge from an official source that there was probable cause to believe the Barack Obama had not met a certifying qualification.”
The appeal brief notes McInnish visited the secretary of state’s office Feb. 2, 2012, and spoke with the deputy secretary of state, Emily Thompson, in Chapman’s absence.
Moore told WND in an interview after his election last November that the country must return to a standard in which the rule of law prevails over politics.
He said Obama violated the Constitution when he bombed Libya, because the Constitution stipulates only Congress shall declare war.
“No president has the power to violate constitutional restraints of power,” Moore said.
“The Constitution is the rule of law, and [my job is] to uphold the rule of law.” Government’s job, Moore said, is to secure and protect those rights.
“There is little regard for the Constitution in the courts today, even the U.S. Supreme Court.”