The Corporations Have Won: Comcast, SCOTUS and the End of Class Actions

On the morning of March 27th, the corporations finally won their war on the people. A little after 10 a.m., before hearing oral arguments on a same-sex marriage lawsuit that burned up all the media oxygen that day, Justice Antonin Scalia announced that the Supreme Court was throwing out an anti-trust class action lawsuit brought against Comcast by two million cable subscribers. It was the other shoe dropping in a pair of decisions that will have a profoundly debilitating effect on the the average citizen's capacity to seek judicial remedies for the destructive and/or discriminatory actions of giant corporations.

The first shoe was Walmart v. Dukes, a 2011 sexual discrimination class action lawsuit brought against Walmart by 1.4 million of its female employees, which SCOTUS also threw out claiming that the plaintiffs did not have enough in common for a class action suit despite the fact that they were all A) Walmart employees B) females and C) alleging Walmart discriminated against them based on their gender.

By throwing out the Comcast suit -- again claiming that the two million plaintiffs didn't have enough in common to qualify for class action despite the fact that they were all Comcast subscribers complaining that the cable giant's monopolistic practices resulted in poor service and artificially high cable rates -- and doubling down on Walmart v. Dukes, SCOTUS has effectively ended class action lawsuits in this country for at least a generation, if not forever, and with it the last line of defense consumers have against the profit-driven predations of ginormous corporations.

Class action lawsuits enable wronged people of little or no means, who otherwise would never be able to sustain, let alone initiate, legal action against corporate America, with its bottomless pockets and legions of legal eagle shock troops, to seek relief in the courts. In other words, they give David a fighting chance at bringing down Goliath.

Over the years class action lawsuits have profoundly changed American society, inarguably for the better. Class action lawsuits are the reason public school classrooms are no longer segregated. Class action lawsuits are the reason Big Tobacco can no longer market cigarettes to children. Class action lawsuits are the reason buildings are no longer larded with asbestos. Class action lawsuits are the reason schools and subdivisions are no longer built on top of toxic waste dumps (see Love Canal). Class action lawsuits are the reason sexual harassment and racial profiling are actionable. Class action lawsuits are the reason credit card companies can no longer demand confiscatory interest rates from card holders. Class action lawsuits are the reason soldiers no longer have to lie about their sexual orientation if they want to serve their country. Class action lawsuits are the reason states can no longer sterilize poor women against their will. Class action lawsuits are the reason employers can't discriminate on the basis of sex.

Or at least they couldn't up until 2011.

That the Roberts Court would side with Comcast and Walmart over the citizenry should really come as no surprise. An exhaustive study recently published in the Minnesota Law Review finds that the Roberts Court is the most business-friendly of any court in at least the last 65 years, declaring "the Roberts court is indeed highly pro-business -- the conservatives extremely so and the liberals only moderately liberal." The study ranked the 36 justices who served on the court over the last 65 years by the preponderance of their pro-business votes. All five of the Roberts Court's conservatives ranked in the top 10. More alarmingly, the study found that, based on their voting record, the top two justices most likely to vote in favor of big business -- out of all the Supreme court justices that have sat on the bench since 1946 -- are Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

There was a time when being 'business-friendly' meant giving corporations a leg-up and a level playing field because doing so creates jobs and bolsters the economy. Today 'business-friendly' means letting corporations socialize their costs while privatizing their profits. It means letting corporation literally write the laws that govern them. It means rolling back regulations and de-fanging oversight that protect consumers -- not to mention the air they breathe and the water they drink and the children they raise -- from the toxic excesses of capitalism's omnivorous pursuit of profit no matter the cost. When we say 'business friendly' what we are really talking about is corporatism. The Comcast decision is yet another damning indicator that we no longer live in a functioning democracy where all men are created equal and treated as such by the rule of law, that while we do technically elect our leaders real choice is just a mirage, that we now live in a corporatocracy where government is of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations. As such, we would do well to heed the wise words of a man who once said: "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." And he would know, his name was Benito Mussolini.