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Ten years ago, Justice Scalia and then-Vice President Dick Cheney took the duck-hunting trip that became a national scandal. The duck hunt took place a mere three weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to decide a case in which Mr. Cheney was the defendant, and that involved questions about the private meetings of Cheney’s energy taskforce. Environmental organizations were concerned about the influence of big oil and drilling companies on taskforce decisions, and the duck-hunting trip raised the same concerns about the Supreme Court. After all, Vice President Cheney served as C.E.O. of the massive oil company Halliburton from 1995 until 2000.
This week, Halliburton itself is at the Supreme Court, and the stakes are enormous. In Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc., the company is being sued by an investment fund that supports the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s programs for inner city youth and the mentally ill. In defending the suit, Halliburton is asking the Justices to overturn a decades-old precedent that has set the “foundation for modern, private securities litigation.” A ruling in Halliburton’s favor would eviscerate the ability of shareholders to use class action lawsuits to challenge fraudulent conduct. Halliburton deserves attention not just for the specific questions of law it presents, but also for the broader implications it has for access to justice in our courts, and whether justice will be dispensed equally to all or reserved only for the privileged few. The Court should—contrary to some of its recent decisions—use the Halliburton case as an opportunity to stand up not just for shareholder rights, but also for access to justice for all Americans.