AFJ Asks Panel of Experts: "Are Pro-Corporate Decisions Hurting Everyday Americans?"
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse Delivers Keynote on Defending Justice with Constitutional Values
Press ContactKevin Fry email@example.com
Washington, DC, March 11, 2011–Alliance for Justice hosted a panel discussion on the effects of pro-corporate federal court decisions on the lives of everyday Americans. Experts discussed a growing pattern of big-business influence in Supreme Court cases, labor and employment laws, and the legal procedures that have benefitted wealthy corporations.
The event was opened by a keynote speech from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who called on all Americans to remember that the Constitution provides not just basic rights, but a mechanism to ensure that those rights cannot be trampled by wealthy and powerful interests:
“The jury serves as our last sanctuary, as Americans, when the forces of society may be arrayed against us: when the governor’s mansion has been bought by special interests; when lobbyists have the legislature tied in knots; when the newspaper owners have steered public opinion against you – the hard square corners of the jury box stand firm against the influence and money of special interests.”
He went on to say that “The jury is particularly important today as powerful corporations encroach ever further into our political system. In the Supreme Court Citizens United case, a slim five-to-four majority allowed giant corporations unlimited license to drown out the voices of American citizens in our elections.”
Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron introduced the discussion by saying, “The Supreme Court’s agenda and the corporate agenda are becoming one and the same... Our hope is that all Americans come to fully appreciate the role of the courts in their lives and how much they stand to lose if the balance of power shifts strongly to the corporate side.”
The event’s panel of experts consisted of: Bill Lurye, Associate General Counsel at AFL-CIO; Suzette Malveaux, Associate Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America; and Jeffrey Rosen, Professor of Law at the George Washington University.
Luyre addressed the fate of labor and employment law in the lower federal courts, which are often dominated by appointees friendly to business interests, saying, “Sometimes I wonder if those who are involved in the confirmation of judges and the selection of judges… understand just how important it is to have good judges.” He went on to point out that “The courts… lack for the most part union lawyers, civil rights lawyers, consumer lawyers, legal service lawyers, public defenders, folks who have had to deal with working people on a day-to-day basis in many different settings.”
Malveaux, an expert on the impact of procedural mechanisms on civil rights, spoke about the legal avenues everyday Americans must have in order to hold powerful corporate interests accountable, and how those methods have been undermined. She noted that “One of the biggest issues that we see coming out of the Supreme Court is access to justice, or just access to the court system in general…. If you look at the Constitution, we have a due process concern that people have their right to their day in court; and that is a fundamental notion of our judicial system. And… it's becoming harder and harder for people to have their day in court, or to actually have access to the system.”
Rosen, author of the widely-read and influential New York Times Magazine article “Supreme Court, Inc.,” talked about the trend in pro-corporate decisions at the Supreme Court and philosophical distinctions within the conservative majority. In discussing how pro-business trends can be countered, he asserted that “the one lesson that we can take from the Tea Party is the importance of grassroots activism. They mobilized people, they got them on the Mall, they proposed constitutional amendments. They also filed lawsuits, but they really created a national consensus around economic populism. And I think that if we neo-progressives are to have legal success in the courts, we need first to have political success, need to mobilize, need to make the case for why in these tough economic times a pro-corporate tilt is not advisable.”
Video and audio of the panel’s remarks and question-and-answer session will be made available in the coming days.
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For more information on the Corporate Court, including the latest news, an overview of business cases on the Supreme Court’s 2010-11 docket, special reports, and analyses of key cases, visit our new online resource page.
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Alliance for Justice is a national association of over 100 organizations dedicated to advancing justice and democracy. For more than 30 years, AFJ has led the fight for a more equitable society on behalf of a broad constituency of environmental, consumer, civil and women's rights, children's, senior citizens' and other groups. Alliance for Justice is premised on the belief that all Americans have the right to secure justice in the courts and to have our voices heard when government makes decisions that affect our lives.