Supreme Court more business friendly, think tank says

Jessica M. Karmasek Oct. 28, 2010, 9:59am


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- The U.S. Supreme Court is more business friendly now than it was almost 30 years ago, according to a study released this week by a D.C.-based think tank.

The Constitutional Accountability Center on Tuesday released a follow-up study that it says "helps sets the record straight" about the pro-corporate leaning of the current Supreme Court.

The Constitutional Accountability Center, or CAC, describes itself as a think tank, law firm and action center "dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of our Constitution's text and history," according to its website.

The center in a previous study, released in June, also showed the Court's big business tilt.

The CAC examined Supreme Court cases in which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce participated since Justice Samuel Alito joined the bench in January 2006.

According to its study, the Chamber won 68 percent of the cases in which it participated, "mainly the product of a cohesive conservative majority."

Also, according to the June study, the center found Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas collectively voted for the Chamber 74 percent of the time.

In contrast, the Court's more liberal/moderate bloc voted for the Chamber 44 percent of the time during this period.

In the October 2009 term alone, the Chamber won 81 percent of its cases, the study found.

But Justice Stephen Breyer, in a Bloomberg News interview earlier this month, downplayed any such tilt on the Court, saying, "They've always done pretty well."

In the CAC's Tuesday report titled, "A Tale of Two Courts: Comparing Corporate Rulings by the Roberts and Burger Courts," the center compared the years 2006-10, since Alito took the bench under Chief Justice John Roberts, to the terms 1981-86, under former Chief Justice Warren Burger, before any of the Court's current conservative majority joined the bench.

The current report found, in its comparison, that during the five-year period under the leadership of Burger, the Chamber lost more cases than it won -- a percentage of 43 percent.

Perhaps even more important, the center said, there was no similar ideological division among the justices in favor of, or against, the Chamber's position.

Justice William Brennan, the Burger Court's liberal lion, voted for the Chamber 43 percent of the time; then-Justice William Rehnquist voted for the Chamber 46 percent of the time, the study found.

"Justice Breyer is flat wrong to the extent he's arguing the Chamber has always done well before the Court," Constitutional Accountability Center President Doug Kendall said in a statement.

"We studied the five years before any of the Court's current conservatives joined the Court and the Chamber won less than half their cases and, even more strikingly, there was no significant ideological split on the Court in Chamber cases.

He continued, "The Supreme Court's modern pro-corporate tilt -- and particularly its sharp ideological split in favor of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- are relatively new developments, traceable to the Court's current conservative majority."

CAC Litigation and Policy Counsel Neil Weare, the lead researcher on the study, agreed.

"Our report shows that there is a dramatic shift between the voting patterns of each of the Court's current conservative members and the Justices they replaced, with the Chamber the clear beneficiary of the shift," Weare said in a statement.

The Court's business-heavy docket this term will come into focus during the first two weeks of November, when it will hear Williamson v. Mazda Motor and AT&T v. Concepcion -- cases that directly concern the safety and fair treatment of American consumers.

The U.S. Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform owns Legal Newsline.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at

More News