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Brett Emison
Brett Emison
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University of Chicago, Northwestern, New York Times Examine Business Influences on SCOTUS

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New York Times legal correspondent Adam Liptak this week filed an excellent page A1 story on the influence that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has had on recent Supreme Court decisions. In collaboration with the Times, professors from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago analyzed 1,450 decisions since 1953.

The study showed that the percentage of business cases on the Supreme Court docket has grown in the years of John G. Roberts, Jr., as its Chief Justice. It also found that the percentage of cases won by business interests also grew. Behind many of these outcomes is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the article chronicles the Chamber’s concerted effort over the years to ramp up their legal affairs unit and their influence on political elections and on the courts.

"The chamber now files briefs in most major business cases," Liptak writes. "The side it supported in the last term won 13 of 16 cases. Six of those were decided with a majority vote of five justices, and five of those decisions favored the chamber’s side. One of the them was Citizens United, in which the chamber successfully urged the court to guarantee what it called “free corporate speech” by lifting restrictions on campaign spending. The chamber’s success rate is but one indication of the Roberts court’s leanings on business issues."

As I’ve written before, tort reform is certainly one area where the U.S. Chamber is heavily involved. But is that prerogative really in line with their "limited government" philosophy they normally espouse? Leading conservative legal groups have started to question the need for tort reform, because of concerns about tort reform’s encroachment on fundamental civil liberties. Tort reform increases, not decreases, the size and burden of government. Furthermore, this so-called "reform" movement fails to promote accountability and personal responsibility, which are often the traits that pro-business, "limited government" groups flack most vigorously.

Liptak’s article is comprehensive and very well researched. After a thorough review of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s efforts, he also includes mention of the research of Depaul University law professor David L. Franklin. Franklin published an article in The Santa Clara Law Review last year that the U.S. Chamber focused on four of five main categories of cases: punitive damages, arbitration of consumer and other disputes, the standards for early dismissal of lawsuits, and federal pre-emption of state laws governing injury and other suits. The “conspicuous exception,” Franklin wrote, was employment discrimination. Read the article in full and decide for yourself what kind of influence the Chamber of Commerce and the world of business has had on the nation’s High Court.

(c) Copyright 2010 Brett A. Emison