Thursday, June 21, 2007

Roberts Court Good for Business, Bad for Stare Decisis

Both the L.A. Times and New York Times have stories out this morning analyzing the Roberts Court and the direction it has been taking.

First, the New York Times argues that the Roberts Court has been notably divided and notably overturning prior court precedent, that is, standing by the Court's previous decisions. The biggest example of course was in Gonzales v. Carhart, where the Court - with Bush appointees Roberts and Alito in the majority - essentially, though not overtly in its opinion, overturned its decision in Stenberg v. Carhart just a few years back and upheld the constitutionality of a law banning "partial-birth" abortion procedures. More importantly, it was the first time since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 that a law regulating abortion had been upheld even when it did not make an exception for the life or health of the mother.

Second, the L.A. Times looks at a dozen rulings in the last year which have been a boon to corporations by making it harder to sue them or limiting lawsuit damages:

"The Roberts court is even better for business" than the court led for two decades by the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, said Washington attorney Maureen E. Mahoney, who is a longtime friend of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and a former clerk for Rehnquist. "There is unquestionably a greater number of business cases before the court, and [the justices] are quite willing to limit damage remedies."

In February, for example, the court threw out an $80-million punitive damage verdict against cigarette maker Philip Morris, ruling that juries cannot use a single victim's suit to punish a company for harm done by its products to thousands of others.

Last month, in a similar decision, the court set aside a California jury's $55-million verdict against Ford Motor Co. arising from a rollover accident involving its Ford Explorer.

Two weeks ago, the court shielded the insurance industry from paying millions of dollars in damages for not notifying customers when they check their credit ratings.

A few days before that, the court protected employers from being sued over pay discrimination against women and minorities that occurred in past years. The 5-4 decision overturned a verdict in favor of a female supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant, saying she had failed to point to discrimination in the 180 days prior to filing her suit — a strict statute of limitations set in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

On Monday, the court threw out a massive suit alleging "an epic Wall Street conspiracy" among the nation's leading investment bankers to fix the prices of new stock offerings during the Internet boom of the late 1990s. It was the third decision this year to restrict the reach of antitrust laws.

None of these pro-business decisions came as a huge surprise. But lawyers who practice regularly before the high court say it is noteworthy that business has been winning so consistently.

It is "a very business-friendly court," said Beth S. Brinkmann, a Washington lawyer who served in the Clinton administration. The justices have made it harder to sue business on many fronts, she said.
Just today, the Supreme Court dealt a second blow to investors suing companies over accusations of fraud when it set a higher standard to prevent the lawsuits from being dismissed.

I just hope everyone who complains about liberal, activist judges is happy with this new, more business-friendly and anti-precedent Supreme Court.

1 comment:

Xanthippas said...

Sad to say, this isn't much of a surprise.