According to a new study by the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC), the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has the strongest pro-corporate tilt in recent history. It is no surprise that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s involvement in Supreme Court cases has increased substantially during this time frame. The Chamber won every Supreme Court case it weighed in on last term, and, this year, has had favorable rulings in 6 out of 7 cases.
Tom Donnelly, a co-author of the CAC study, told Talking Points Memo, “The Chamber of Commerce has definitely spearheaded the effort to shape the sort of cases that end up on the Supreme Court’s docket. They’re doing this because they know they have a consistent bloc on the court that’s likely to vote in their interest.”
The CAC study found that the Supreme Court has exhibited a corporate-friendly leaning since the 1980s, and compares Chief Justice John Roberts’s Court to those of his two predecessors. The Court of Chief Justice Warren Burger (1981-1986) sided with the Chamber of Commerce 43% of the time, and under Chief Justice William Rehnquist (1994-2005), the Court sided with the Chamber 56% of the time. Under Roberts (2006-2013), the number has increased to 69%.
According to CAC, while the press has been concerned with the Supreme Court’s “blockbuster cases” addressing marriage equality, voting rights, etc., the rest of the Court’s “business-heavy” docket has slipped under the radar. “Although often ignored by the American public, these cases involve important issues with potentially far-reaching consequences for workers and consumers nationwide,” the study says.
The CAC study points to a dramatic increase in the Chamber of Commerce’s participation rate in the Roberts Court, in part due to the Chamber’s success in shaping the Court’s docket. “Over the past thirty years, the Chamber’s participation rate has increased six-fold, from 4% in the early 1980s to 24% today.” The Chamber has filed a near record amount of amicus briefs this term, and the Court is hearing half as many cases as during the Burger Court, so not only is the Chamber participating in a greater number of cases than before, but it is also “aggressively and successfully working to shape the Court’s docket.”
A SCOTUSblog investigation from 2007 looked into the Chamber’s success in shaping the Court’s docket over the last few years. A follow-up report, released in early April, observed that “[t]he private groups and advocacy organizations that most frequently urge the court to take a case are overwhelmingly pro-business, anti-regulatory, and ideologically conservative,” and called the Chamber of Commerce the ongoing “champion” of these petition-stage, brief-filing organizations.
The Chamber of Commerce has written more petitions than any other organization calling on the Supreme Court to take up cases, according to SCOTUSblog. Of the many cases over the years that were big wins for corporations, Citizens United v. FEC may be the most notable. The 2010 ruling by the Supreme Court decided that the government cannot ban political spending by corporations, thereby giving corporations the same contribution rights as individual citizens.
Such cases have “done a lot more to make it difficult for consumers and workers to bring class-action claims to hold businesses and corporations accountable for their behavior,” CAC researcher Donnelly says. “I think that’s going to continue and I think that’s the most dangerous and important trend.”
Alisha Mims is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.