Buying Off the Ref

WASHINGTON, D. C. - APRIL 19:  U.S. Supreme Court Building, in Washington, D. C. on APRIL 19.  (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty I
WASHINGTON, D. C. - APRIL 19: U.S. Supreme Court Building, in Washington, D. C. on APRIL 19. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court is supposed to the branch of government that acts as a referee. When any party has too much power and is using it to break the rules of the Constitution, the role of the Supreme Court is to step in and blow the whistle, remind everyone of the rules, and then allow all involved to "Play ball!" But, what if someone gets to choose the ref? And then rigs the game by picking who gets to play and who doesn't? That's exactly what the Chamber of Commerce is doing.

Yesterday, MSNBC reported on the release of a new report from the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) on how the Chamber of Commerce is using their power and influence to decide which cases are heard and then using their vast resources to ensure they win these hand-picked cases. The Chamber and their allies made the down payment during the Bush administration to ensure a more conservative court that would be sympathetic to big business, and now they are reaping the reward of that investment. The CAC report explains the results of this rigging of the system:

This term, the Chamber filed amicus briefs in 24 percent of cases, up from 10 percent 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 percent of the cases in which it's gotten involved (see chart below). That's up from 56 percent during the latter part of the Rehnquist Court, and just 43 percent during the last five years of the Burger Court, from 1981 to 1986.

The Supreme Court actions that have been orchestrated by the Chamber have profound effects. Whole swaths of law are becoming less and less available to people as the Court cuts off access to many forms of class actions and other ways people can hold corporations accountable. Forced arbitration is pushing people into a system where the corporations choose the arbitrator and set the rules of the hearing. In so many ways, the Chamber and its allies are pushing the Court in a direction where people get less and less power to counter corporate abuses.

Our Constitution's genius was in setting up a system of checks and balances, knowing that if any one branch of government got too powerful, it would infringe on the rights of everyone. Our court system was supposed to be the ultimate arbiter of that balance, the scales of justice weighing the rights of all to ensure the liberty of our citizens. But now, corporate power - a force barely glimpsed in 1789 - has risen to the level where it can create entities like the Chamber of Commerce to tip those scales and undermine those checks and balances. Where can consumers or workers or our communities go for justice and protection when a corporation over steps its bounds and abuses the public trust? Well, I wouldn't recommend this current Supreme Court.

That's why we need to go directly to the source. Corporate abuse needs a check and balance and if the Supreme Court is not going to do it, it's up to us. Ultimately, corporations can be held accountable for their behavior by the people who support them and the society that creates them, and we are those people. It's time to start treating shareholder meetings with the same level of attention as sessions of congress. Fighting corporate abuse and changing corporate behavior will restore the balance we need to protect consumers, workers, and everyday Americans, and create. We need to step in to be the referee and make this game fair again.