by One Struggle
At its best, the Supreme Court is meant to make the Constitution adaptable to the changing needs of society. In reality, it is the top tier of a capitalist, bureaucratic ladder that turns human need into semantic arguments for the sake of parceling out freedoms just enough to pacify the masses. It speaks clearly to the interests served by this system when an institution that asserted African Americans are not people (Dred Scott v. Sandford 1857), permitted compulsory sterilization of the intellectually disabled (Buck v Bell 1927), and condoned Japanese internment (Korematsu v. United States 1944) still has relevance and power today.
The Supreme Court has been using that power to further corporate personhood and weaken the power of the collective. With President Nixon’s nomination of Lewis Powell Jr. onto the Supreme Court in 1972 came the presence of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s special interests for decades to come. In a memo to the Chamber shortly before his appointment, Powell wrote of the U.S. economic system coming under attack by everyone from Communists to college students. He urged that businesses take a more active role in defending themselves from this siege, especially through direct involvement in politics. Since then, the Chamber has had increasing influence over the cases brought before the supreme court and their decisions. Their input can be found in the majority of cases concerning the proliferation of corporate rights.
Cut to modern day. The Chamber has won 69% of the cases in which they have been involved in since John Roberts became Chief Justice in 2005. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court found that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment and the government may not keep corporations from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. Horne v the Department of Agriculture, reported as “small-time farmer” Marvin D. Horne taking on the government, actually concerns “Raisin Valley Farms,” the largest raisin producer in the California valley where most of the world’s raisins come from. The supreme court’s defense of their monetary compensation on the basis of the fifth amendment right to compensation from government takings sets precedent that will stand to benefit large corporations and drag us deeper into a reality where a business can have all of the same rights as a person, but with enough money and power to structure the entire country to their benefit. In both of these cases, the Chamber of Commerce filed multiple briefs in order to influence the opinion of the court. Meanwhile, average Americans who do not spark the interest of massive lobbying groups are toiling away in the lower courts, being issued arrest warrants by judges in collusion with collections agencies, and being jailed in a return to debtor’s prisons thought to be a thing of the past.
What naturally follows the bestowing of human rights to corporations is the stripping of those rights from the rest of the population. In AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion in 2011, corporations gained the power to force consumers to individually file lawsuits against a company, allowing them to protect themselves from class action lawsuits by consumers (Oh, is that a Chamber of Commerce amicus brief I see?). This legal protection was expanded this year to employee class action lawsuits in Epic Systems v. Lewis (wow Chamber we really can’t keep meeting like this). One month later in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the court ruled that government workers who choose not to join unions may not be required to help pay for collective bargaining, effectively crippling public sector unions. Corporations have successfully cultivated legal ground for exploitation of their workers and relieved themselves of the need to be accountable to their customers.