There are many varied opinions on the purpose of the United States Supreme Court, but its basic function is to uphold the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and check the power of the Legislative and Executive branches of government. The current court has extended its purview to protecting corporations from adherence to the law and for ensuring that conservative ideology is the law of the land. Last year, the court’s decision in the Citizens United case opened the floodgates of corporate control of elections that has produced the current flock of Republicans who are rapidly transforming America into a plutocracy. Yesterday, the court ruled unanimously that a class-action against retail giant Wal-Mart was too broad in scope, and also ruled by a vote of 5-4 that the 6 women plaintiffs did not prove they suffered from a common policy of discrimination in pay equality and discrimination.
The conservative majority’s decision is not surprising, and is yet another blow to women as well as workers whose best chances at forcing change in corporate attitudes toward workers’ rights is a class action lawsuit. The conservative majority claimed that the 6 women, who represent as many as 1.6 million current and former female employees, did not prove they suffered from a “common policy of discrimination.” Regardless of the conservative court’s decision, one would think that 1.6 million female employees complaint of pay and promotion discrimination constituted a pattern, but if the lawsuit had proceeded and the plaintiffs had prevailed, Wal-Mart would have been liable for billions of dollars in back pay. The current court’s majority could never have allowed the world’s largest retail employer to be held accountable to pay such huge damages, so they did not allow the 6 women to present their case for adjudication.
The decision is a double blow to workers in that women will continue to suffer discrimination from Wal-Mart and every other corporation, and large groups of workers will have difficulty ever bringing a class action against a corporate giant. The decision was in keeping with the conservative-minded court’s favoritism toward business and discrimination against the working class.
It is not the least bit surprising the court did not let the women plaintiffs present their argument that they were discriminated against because the conservatives, led by Antonin Scalia, do not believe women are protected by the Constitution. The 14th Amendment includes principles to protect citizens from being denied certain rights, and this court decision ignored each of them in favor of a corporation. In particular, the 14th Amendment guarantees that no person could be denied equal protection of the laws and that no person could be deprived of “life, liberty, or property” without “due process of the law.” In both senses, the high court denied the female plaintiffs due process and equal protection of the law, but the women were forewarned by Antonin Scalia who said earlier that women were not protected by the 14th Amendment.
Conservatives on the court and in Congress have regularly voted against equal pay for women so Wal-Mart’s record of gender discrimination is supported by Republicans as a matter of course and the public record. Although the women can regroup and sue Wal-Mart on an individual basis, the restrictive costs for litigation favor the corporate giant and even if they lose one case from one plaintiff, they are unlikely to change their practice of gender discrimination against women. One of the purposes of a class action is if awards to plaintiffs are large and painful enough, a business is apt to change their discriminatory policy to avoid any future action. With yesterday’s decision, the conservative court let Wal-Mart and all large corporations off the hook for damages in discrimination lawsuits. Wal-Mart was the only defendant in the case, but the class action did have the potential of affecting many corporations who may be guilty of discriminating against women and workers in general.
Before the court even heard the case, over 20 of the country’s largest companies filed a brief supporting Wal-Mart because the court’s decision sets precedence for future cases. Wal-Mart’s attorney Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. said the court’s decision was “an extremely important victory not only for Wal-Mart but all companies that do business in the United States.” A representative of the United States Chamber of Commerce’s litigation arm, Robin Conrad, said that, “This is, without a doubt, the most important class-action case in more than a decade. We applaud the Supreme Court for affirming that mega-class actions such as this one are completely inconsistent with federal law.” There is no federal law limiting the size of a class action, but it is an important, beneficial ruling for corporations and businesses. The court has effectively set a standard that there is no class big or small enough to challenge unfair business practices or to hold corporations accountable for harming consumers.
In Wal-Mart’s case, there have been complaints for years of unfair hiring, pay, and advancement opportunities for women, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said the women should have been allowed to prove their case and that there was evidence that Wal-Mart had problems with female employees. When the lawsuit was filed, Wal-Mart’s female employees held 70% of the hourly jobs but only held 33% of management positions. It is worth mentioning again that 1.6 million women were part of the class in the lawsuit leading any reasonable person to see a pattern of discrimination in pay and advancement for women in the company.
The Supreme Court is tasked with protecting citizen’s rights according to the Constitution, but the current conservative majority is diligently working to protect corporations. The Founding Fathers did not write the Bill of Rights for corporations, and yet for the second time in a year, the conservatives are treating corporations better than individual citizens. Wal-Mart escaped being held accountable for discriminating against women, and although individually the plaintiffs can file new discrimination lawsuits, the prohibitive lawyer fees certainly will curtail any significant action. In any normal High Court action, the court could have reorganized the case into an acceptable class action, but the conservative majority had no interest in the cause of justice for the women, so they ended the lawsuit as a class action once and for all. They also made it nearly impossible for any other class action to come before the High Court if the class is too large or potential damages are too high. The conservatives on the court all but guaranteed that any suit against a corporation will have to be limited to one individual plaintiff so the court can refuse to hear the case.
Americans will have to get used to being ancillary to corporations in the eyes of the Supreme Court even though the Constitution assigns no rights or privileges to corporations. They will also have to accept the fact that this court has no obligation to protect citizen’s rights. Women already know they will be treated as second-class citizens as long as Republicans are allowed to serve in Congress and vote against equal pay for the same job as a man. Although the Supreme Court does not make laws or set policies, this court has consistently distorted their role as protectors of the Constitution and is legislating from the bench for wealthy corporations and the Republican Party. Instead of protecting the Constitution, this Supreme Court is changing the very nature of America into a corporate-controlled government whose sole purpose is the deification of the corporate world at the expense of the people. Conservatives claim they want to return to the original intent of the Founding Fathers, but the Founders would not acknowledge the court’s legitimizing corporations as a person. However, with conservative Christians redefining a zygote as a person, it is not so strange that the nation’s highest court is redefining a corporation as a person. The only thing the Supreme Court has yet to do is re-designate America as a corporate entity so the conservative justices have nothing to do except continue drawing their bloated salaries from Wal-Mart and Koch Industries.