The Corporate Court Shields Corporations from Liability

» In Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc. (2008), the Court ruled that a consumer who has been seriously injured by a defective medical device cannot sue the manufacturer if the product was approved by federal government regulators, even if the company knew the product was dangerous.

» In Exxon Shipping v. Baker (2008), after 19 years of legal battles, the Court allowed Exxon to escape full financial liability for the damage done by the Exxon-Valdez oil spill to communities and the environment, leaving over 30,000 people whose livelihoods and community were destroyed by the disaster with only a tenth of the original jury award for punitive damages—a sum completely inadequate to make up for their loss.

The Corporate Court Insulates Corporate Interests from Environmental and Antitrust Regulation

» Two recent Supreme Court decisions, Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2001) and Rapanos v. United States (2006), had the effect of taking many waterways outside the protection of the Clean Water Act—even though pollution from these waterways can dirty the drinking water of 117 million Americans.  As a result of the Court’s decision, 1,500 major pollution investigations have been halted, and EPA actions against water polluters have fallen by 50 percent.

» In Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc. (2007), five conservative justices overturned a century of antitrust law and decided that manufacturers and retailers could sometimes engage in price-fixing.  In dissent, Justice Breyer cited studies estimating that this change in law would cost consumers $300 billion a year in increased prices on everyday items.

The Corporate Court Puts Elections Up for Sale

» In Citizens United v. FEC (2010), the five conservatives undermined a century of law to fundamentally change the rules governing election spending in order to favor the interests of big business.  The Court went out of its way to toss aside several precedents to allow corporations to use unlimited funds from their general treasuries to influence federal elections—and held for the first time in American history that corporations have the same right as ordinary people to spend money on elections. As Justice Stevens wrote in dissent, “Essentially, five Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”

» In Davis v. FEC, the 5 conservative Justices overturned the “Millionaire’s Amendment,” Congress’s effort to level the playing field in the political process and reduce the influence of wealth on elections by increasing the contribution limits to candidates facing self-funded opponents.

The Corporate Court Makes it Easier for Companies to Discriminate Against Women and the Elderly

» In Ledbetter v. Goodyear (2007), a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that a woman who had been paid less than her male peers for 20 years had no right to bring a lawsuit for equal pay because she failed to file suit within 180 days of the first discrimination—even though she had no way of learning about the discrimination until years later.

» In several narrow decisions, the Court changed the basic rules of litigation and made it much harder for victims of unlawful conduct to seek redress in court.  In Gross v. FBL Financial Services (2009), the five conservatives changed the long-standing evidentiary standard for proving age discrimination.  These new rules make it much more difficult for plaintiffs to prevail, especially when going up against well-financed corporate defendants.

 

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