The Myth of the Pro-Business Supreme Court

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on March 19, 2011

I have touched on this issue before, but it is worth noting anew that the Supreme Court is not some kind of rubber stamp for the business community:

In cases ranging from Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (2007), where the Court recognized a sweeping new federal power to regulate carbon dioxide, to Wyeth v. Levine (2009), where the Court permitted a major state lawsuit against a drug warning label that had previously been approved by the Federal Drug Administration, the allegedly pro-business Supreme Court has repeatedly made big business very unhappy.

Just last month, the Court handed down a unanimous ruling in Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc., holding that the federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act does not trump a much more restrictive car safety requirement enacted at the state level. This means that although Mazda had followed federal auto safety law to the letter, the company is still susceptible to costly lawsuits filed at the state level. That decision even prompted Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel for the left-wing Constitutional Accountability Center, to celebrate conservative Justice Clarence Thomas as a “surprising ally for progressives” thanks to the concurring opinion Thomas filed in the case. So much for a pro-corporate pattern.

To further complicate the simplistic tale of a corporate-friendly Court, consider last year’s much-discussed decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down several government restrictions on political speech funded by corporations and unions. Citizens United, of course, is now routinely demonized by the left as “the Supreme Court’s gift to big business.” But don’t forget that the American Civil Liberties Union—one of the country’s oldest and most respected champions of unfettered speech—actively supported the winning “corporate” side in the case. So did legendary First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, whose resume includes the landmark Pentagon Papers case, New York Times Co. v. United States (1971), where he represented the Times in its First Amendment battle against the Nixon administration. So why shouldn’t Citizens United therefore also count as a pro-ACLU and pro-free speech decision? Or would that spoil the fantasy of selfless progressives battling evil corporate stooges?

There is more. Between this issue, and the myth about the all-powerful Koch Brothers, there is an awful lot of nonsense being peddled about in the public square, isn’t there?

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