Exxon

Politico's Playbook Misses the Call on ALEC

Politico’s Mike Allen publishes a daily run-down on the happenings in Washington called the “Playbook,” in which he boils down the news of the day into salient tidbits that fit easily on your smartphone screen. However, he missed the call on a Bloomberg article sounding the drumbeat against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a secretive organization that facilitates meetings between corporate executives and state legislatures to help shepherd corporate-written bills into law.

The “seat at the legislative drafting table” is in fact exactly what it sounds like, and the process is detailed in a PFAW report. Corporate representatives, or “task-force members,” sit down with state legislators and hand them “model bills” to introduce in their respective statehouses. The result is myriad, nearly identical, extremely specialized and pro-corporate bills being introduced in legislatures around the country that carry serious repercussions for the environment, consumer safety, and working families – all for the sake of these corporations’ bottom line. Needless to say, ALEC member companies pay handsomely for this privilege.

BEHIND THE CURTAIN – “Koch, Exxon Mobil Among Corporations Helping Write State Laws,” by Bloomberg’s Alison Fitzgerald: “Koch Industries Inc. and Exxon Mobil Corp. are among companies that would benefit from almost identical energy legislation introduced in state capitals from Oregon to New Mexico … The energy companies helped write the legislation at a meeting organized by a group they finance, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a [state government] policy institute known as ALEC. The corporations, both ALEC members, took a seat at the legislative drafting table beside elected officials and policy analysts by paying a fee between $3,000 and $10,000.” The legislation pressures govs to leave the Western Climate Initiative, a regional carbon cap and trade program. http://bloom.bg/prxOw4

--PLAYBOOK TRANSLATION: The collusion turns out to be a think tank’s model legislation, called up on the web by like-minded legislators. The “seat at the legislative drafting table” turns out to be foundation donations or annual-meeting sponsorships. 

ALEC is perhaps one of the gravest threats facing our democracy today – and sugarcoating their secretive workings does no favor to the American people.

PFAW

New Corporate-Funded ‘Super PAC’ Created By The Man Who Helped Make Citizens United Possible

GOP activist James Bopp Jr. has played a critical role in eviscerating campaign finance regulations throughout his career as a Republican attorney. He successfully argued in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life that Congress couldn’t prevent corporations from using money from their general treasuries on so-called “issue ads,” and he initially represented the right-wing group Citizens United in the landmark case that ushered in massive corporate involvement in politics (although he did not argue the case in Supreme Court).

After fighting for the power of corporations to increase their already-substantial role in public affairs, now Bopp is launching a pro-GOP political group that seeks to cash-in on the glut of corporate money. Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones reports that Bopp is one of the founders of the newly formed Republican Super PAC and is set to expand corporate involvement in politics to an even greater degree by having candidates participate in the fundraising for undisclosed corporate dollars:

"The different thing here with our PAC is that we are going to harness the political fundraising of candidates and parties," he says. He explains that the committee will allow candidates and parties to fundraise for their campaigns and party organs at the same time they solicit unlimited, anonymous contributions to the super PAC.

Here's how it works: Say House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) approaches the CEO of Exxon for a contribution to his reelection campaign. Under federal law, the CEO can only give Boehner $2,500. In the past, that’s the end of the conversation. But Bopp's plan envisions Boehner and his campaign asking that same donor—and his company—to pony up more money, as much as he wants, for the Republican Super PAC. The donor can even specify that the money be spent supporting Boehner or attacking his opponent. Then Bopp's PAC can buy ads, send out mailings, canvass neighborhoods, and do all the other things a political campaign typically does on Boehner’s behalf.



The Republican Super PAC is the logical outgrowth of Citizens United and a series of other recent court decisions that have overturned long-standing restrictions on corporate campaign spending. Bopp says these rulings allow his new group to go into uncharted campaign finance terrain. "This is perfectly legal," Bopp insists.
PFAW

On Climate Change, Oil Industry Pays for Its Own Facts and Its Own Religious Doctrine

Recently a group of climate change skeptics released a list of “900+ Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skepticism of 'Man-Made' Global Warming (AGW) Alarm." But where did those 900+ papers come from? GOOD reports that of the ten authors cited most frequently in the list, nine have financial ties to ExxonMobil.

It’s hardly news that the oil and gas industry is pouring money into research dismissing the threat of climate change. But the extent of its influence continues to be staggering. Last month, we reported on the oil industry’s wildly successful underwriting of the Religious Right’s embrace of climate change denialism. In response to some prominent evangelical leaders joining the “creation care” movement, which see environmental protection as an imperative for those who want to protect God’s creation, energy company-backed groups are joining with prominent Religious Right leaders to push a gospel that mandates human exploitation of our natural habitat.

In a relatively short amount of time, the oil and gas industry has managed to buy both its own body of questionable scientific research and its own gospel of environmental exploitation.

Here, for a refresher, is the Religious Right’s response to climate science and creation care:

 

PFAW

The Right's Use of Records Requests to Chill Dissent and Attack Academics

In Wisconsin and Michigan, we are seeing what appears to be the latest right wing tool to intimidate and harass its critics: extensive – and baseless – public records requests against academics at public universities. The consequences for the free and open debate on which our democracy depends are serious indeed.

Last week, Wisconsin Republicans clamped down on criticisms of their party's efforts to undermine workers' rights by filing a broad demand for copies of all of the emails of University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor William Cronon that mention Governor Scott Walker, the eight Republican state senators who have been targeted for recall, or unions that represent government employees. Cronon had recently penned a blog post calling attention to the work of a little-known group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its apparently significant influence on Republican state lawmakers, including those in Wisconsin such as Governor Walker. The message was clear. Criticize what we do and we'll come after you to see what we can dig up to smear you with.

Any thought that this might be an isolated response was quickly shattered when similar requests were made for Wisconsin-related e-mails at three Michigan universities. Rather than being from the Wisconsin GOP, these were from a right-wing organization called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. They filed requests for e-mails of the faculty of the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center, the Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues at Wayne State University, and the Labor Education Program of Michigan State University. The requests cover not only e-mails relating to the Wisconsin clash over the labor rights, but, according to press reports, also any e-mails mentioning Rachel Maddow.

Aside from their far right conservative ideologies, the Mackinac Center and ALEC have something else in common: Although not well known among the general public, they are part of a network of right wing ideological organizations that have been heavily funded over the years by many of the same small group of wealthy funders, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, the Coors family, the Scaife family, and corporate giant Exxon Mobil.

It is not likely a coincidence that these two right wing organizations employed the same unusual tactics in two different states just days apart. Who knows where they will go next. Clearly this is a pattern. And, unfortunately, it's a familiar one. Just as in the McCarthy era, academics face intimidation and harassment and possible threats to their reputations if they take public stands against the far right. The specific method of intimidation may be different (i.e., public records requests), but the goal is the same.

This intimidation is as insidious now as it was more than half a century ago, because it does not matter that the targets have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. As we have seen, all it took was one purloined e-mail, taken out of context and distorted beyond all recognition, to manufacture the phony "Climategate" scandal that threatened the reputation of climate scientists around the world and set back climate change regulations by years.

Anyone doubting that the far right is both willing and able to destroy their reputations with such distortions needs look no farther than the devastating video "exposés" of ACORN, NPR, and Planned Parenthood. The ACORN video came first and essentially destroyed the organization. In the best traditions of McCarthyism, the right now uses any association with ACORN to discredit its opponents. They are hoping for equal success with NPR and Planned Parenthood.

People For the American Way strongly supports the Freedom of Information Act and its state and local equivalents. Opening government records to the public serves as an essential check on the abuse of government power. Indeed, the Bush Administration prepared for its long war against civil liberties in the administration's early days by essentially reversing the Clinton Administration's presumption that FOIA requests should generally be granted unless there is some reason to deny it.

Such laws exist to expand public dialogue and the dissemination of information affecting the public welfare. But the rights granted by FOIA laws, like so many others, have limitations and can be abused. A demand for information can be made not to hold government accountable and enhance public debate, but instead to harass, intimidate, suppress public debate, and keep information and opinions out of the public square. This is particularly true when it is aimed at individuals in state academic institutions.

That's what we see happening in Wisconsin and Michigan.

The public has a right to know about the activities of government entities working in its name. When a government entity has the authority to issue licenses, allocate funds, imprison people, conduct safety inspections, conduct elections – the core activities of government, all of which have substantial impacts on individuals, businesses, and groups – open records laws can help ensure that these tasks are done lawfully, without favoritism or waste. Reflecting how often members of the public request such information, many government organizations have entire offices dedicated to fulfilling these records requests.

So how often does a member of the public submit a record request for, say, the Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan? I asked Roland Zullo, a research scientist there. He had to think about it because such requests are so rare, but he thinks the last one was about five years ago, a fishing expedition from a conservative organization essentially seeking all of their records going back to the 1950s. When the organization learned how much it would have to pay to cover the costs of its truly expansive request, it apparently backed off.

The Supreme Court has recognized the unique role that universities, including public universities, play in maintaining our liberties. As it stated in 1957, during the McCarthy era, "[t]eachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die."

That is why the American Historical Society has strongly condemned the efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to intimidate Professor Cronon:

The purpose of the state's Open Records Law is to promote informed public conversation. Historians vigorously support the freedom of information act traditions of the United States of which this law is a part. In this case, however, the law has been invoked to do the opposite: to find a pretext for discrediting a scholar who has taken a public position. This inquiry will damage, rather than promote, public conversation. It will discourage other historians (and scholars in other disciplines) employed by public institutions from speaking out as citizen-scholars in their blogs, op-ed pieces, articles, books, and other writings.

We should recognize that public universities are a unique hybrid. They are funded by the public, and we should be able to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent efficiently and legally. But their work also contributes to the robust debate over public issues without which our freedom will die. And that debate requires that we protect academic freedom and ensure that faculty have no reason to feel intimidated for asking difficult questions, conducting their research and writings, and making statements that those in power do not wish to hear.

That is the American Way.

PFAW

Why do YOU pay more taxes than G.E.?

GEDo you pay taxes? Guess who doesn't. America's largest corporation: General Electric.

G.E. did not pay any taxes on their $14 billion in profits last year and instead got a $3 billion tax refund.1 But it doesn't end at G.E....

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont put out a Top 10 list of corporations with high profits and no taxes in recent years including Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Boeing and Carnival Cruise Lines. Over the last two years, Wells Fargo earned $37 billion in profits but got a $4 billion tax refund.2 And Hewlett-Packard reported over $9 billion in profits last year, but paid the same amount in taxes as someone earning just $30,000 a year.3

Tell members of Congress: Before gutting the budget of necessary programs that help middle-class and poor Americans, make sure corporations are paying their fair share!

This is not about business incentives, which are fine and can be valuable in helping to kick start the economy. This is about a system gone completely off the rails in which corporations are getting an unnecessary free ride at the expense of everyone else.

Congress is on the verge of shutting down over Republicans' demands for deep, draconian cuts to everything from public broadcasting and reproductive health to college loans and programs that feed poor children. So why aren't increases in revenue, beginning with basic Tax Fairness for corporations, on the table too? Conservatives seem hell-bent on slashing funding for every program under the sun that helps ordinary Americans, including Social Security and Medicaid, just so they can protect corporations' free ride.

The New York Times reported that corporate taxes made up 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s, but as of 2009 were only 6.6 percent of total revenues. It's not hard to see that closing loopholes and ending billions of dollars of giveaways in corporate welfare could solve most if not all of our budget problems. Don't let this Tea Party Congress pay for corporate welfare on the backs of poor and middle-class families. Demand Tax Fairness Now!

Call on Congress to collect corporations' fair share in taxes before forcing through cuts that will harm millions of Americans.


We need to change the conversation and now is the time. While Republicans, the media and too many conservative Democrats continue to play to the false narrative that deep cuts are necessary, including cuts to essential retirement and health care programs, everyone is ignoring the real elephant in the room: that profit-swollen corporations are shorting America and its taxpayers billions of dollars every year. Congress can show they are really serious about budgets and deficits by making corporations pay their fair share, and making it the top priority over cuts.

After taking action, please help spread the word.

Thank you for all that you do to defend the American Way.

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/25/business/economy/25tax.html
2. http://wallstcheatsheet.com/breaking-news/economy/the-top-7-corporate-ta...
3. http://www.makewallstreetpay.org/bigbankdrain/big-bank-tax-drain.pdf
 

 


 

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PFAW

3 Reasons to Vote Tuesday

There are many reasons why it is important to vote tomorrow. Here are three of them:

  1. Because you care about a government that cares about people. Take a look at our Rogues’ Gallery of Right-Wing Senate candidates. A coalition of extreme far-right candidates, led by Senator Jim DeMint, want to push a radical agenda that will chip away at individual freedoms while making life even tougher for middle class and working class Americans. These candidates, backed by corporate interests, have plenty of allies running for the House and for statehouses throughout the country. If they’re in charge, they won’t bring progress to a standstill, they’ll start rolling it back.
  2. Because you’re a human being. The Supreme Court ruled this year that corporations have “free speech” rights to spend money to influence elections. Exxon and BP, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan can now spend millions of dollars from their treasuries to sway your vote. We real human beings may not have millions of dollars to spend for our favorite candidates, but we have one advantage over corporations. We can cast a vote.
  3. Because they don’t want you to. The Right has been up in arms this year about the supposed threat of “voter fraud.” The number of cases of actual voter fraud is minute, and widespread fraud wouldn’t even logically make sense, but the Right loves to talk about it as a way to prevent young, poor, and minority citizens from voting. Don’t let them.

Find your polling place here.

PFAW

“The ACLU Chromosome” and other judicial disqualifiers

Politico today outlines an emerging trend in judicial obstruction. While partisan battles over judicial nominees have in past years focused on the occasional appellate court judge or Supreme Court justice, these days even nominees to lower-profile district courts are fair game for partisan obstructionism. Among other problems, this doesn’t make it easy to keep a well-functioning, fully staffed federal court system:

According to data collected by Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution and analyzed by POLITICO, Obama’s lower-court nominees have experienced an unusually low rate of confirmation and long periods of delay, especially after the Senate Judiciary Committee has referred the nomination for a confirmation vote by the full Senate. Sixty-four percent of the district court nominees Obama submitted to the Senate before May 2010 have been confirmed — a number dwarfed by the 91 percent confirmation rate for Bush’s district court nominees for the same period.

But analysts say the grindingly slow pace in the Senate, especially on district court nominations, will have serious consequences.

Apart from the burden of a heavier case load for current judges and big delays across the federal judicial system, Wheeler, a judicial selection scholar at Brookings, says that potential nominees for district courts may think twice before offering themselves up for a federal nomination if the process of confirmation continues to be both unpredictable and long.

"I think it means first that vacancies are going to persist for longer than they should. There’s just not the judge power that there should be," Wheeler said. And private lawyers who are not already judges may hesitate to put their practices on hold during the confirmation process, he added, because "you can’t be certain that you’ll get confirmed" for even a district judgeship, an entry-level position to the federal bench.

Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has been at the lead of the GOP’s obstruction of every judicial nominee who can possibly be obstructed. He told Politico that he simply wants to make sure every new federal judges passes his litmus test: "If they’re not committed to the law, they shouldn’t be a judge, in my opinion."

Sounds fair. But the problem is, of course, that Sessions’ definition of “committed to the law” is something more like “committed to the way Jeff Sessions sees the law.”

In a meeting yesterday to vote on eight judicial nominees-- five of whom were going through the Judiciary Committee for the second or third time after Senate Republicans refused to vote on their nominations--Sessions rallied his troops against Edward Chen, nominated to serve as a district court judge in California. Chen is a widely respected magistrate judge who spent years fighting discrimination against Asian Americans for the American Civil Liberties Union. But Sessions smelled a rat: Chen, he said, has “the ACLU chromosome.”

The phrase really illuminates what Sessions and his cohort mean when they talk about finding judges “committed to the law” or who won’t stray from “the plain words of statutes or the Constitution.” It isn’t about an “objective” reading of the Constitution. It’s about appointing judges who will find ways to protect powerful interests like Exxon, BP, and the Chamber of Commerce, while denying legal protections to working people, women, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, and gays and lesbians.

(Sessions himself was nominated for a judgeship in 1986, but was rejected by a bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee for his history of not-so-ACLU-like activity).

Sessions’ warns that “Democrats hold federal judiciary as the great engine of the left,” but the reality is far from that. Besides having the most conservative Supreme Court in decades, nearly 40% of all current federal judges were appointed by George W. Bush, who made a point of recruiting judges with stellar right-wing credentials.

No matter how much disarray it causes in the federal courts, it’s in the interest of Sessions and the Right Wing to keep the number of judicial seats President Obama fills to a minimum. If they succeed, they keep their conservative, pro-corporate courts, tainted as little as possible by the sinister “ACLU chromosome.”
 

PFAW

Hung out to dry

Republicans have given us a sneak peek of what they have in store for America if they succeed in taking over Congress on Election Day ... and it's not pretty.

On Tuesday, Republican senators voted in lockstep to block the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the DREAM Act... just yesterday, they voted in unity to block the DISCLOSE Act for the second time. Corporate special interests are drowning out the voices of regular voters by dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into this year's elections, and every single Republican voted to block a bill that would add some basic fairness by simply requiring disclosure of who is behind political ads. Every. Single. Republican.

The unprecedented obstruction just does not stop. President Obama's judicial nominees have been held up endlessly. In some cases, they've needed to be re-nominated and have multiple Judiciary Committee votes despite being approved by the Committee the first time. Some of these nominees even passed in Committee unanimously, with no Republican opposition, but the "Party of No" has been intent on blocking even the most uncontroversial nominees from the Senate floor. Meanwhile, there are vacancies on the federal courts -- 11 seats of the 23 pending on the nominations calendar -- that have been declared "judicial emergencies" by the Administrative Office of the Courts. Our judicial system is hurting and so is Americans' access to justice.

It's not just the Senate. Yesterday, the House passed legislation to help small businesses, but only because of the Democratic majority -- just like with the DISCLOSE Act in the Senate, every single Republican voted "no." This vote came on the very same day that the GOP House Leadership released its "Pledge to America" -- in the rollout, Minority Leader Boehner and his cohorts mentioned "small businesses" no fewer than 18 times. The hypocrisy is simply staggering.

In both the Senate and the House, Republicans have consistently opposed tax relief for small businesses and the middle class, justifying their obstruction with phony, hypocritical arguments about spending. Republicans have tried to block extensions of unemployment benefits and aid for homeowners to prevent foreclosures, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is even blocking a food safety bill that passed in the House with bipartisan support last summer and has overwhelming support from consumer groups. Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing to add billions, if not trillions, to the deficit by extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2%.

The Republicans have a clear agenda: to serve corporate special interests. They want to take back Congress but it's their policies that sunk our economy in the first place -- policies that encourage the outsourcing of jobs, allow Wall Street greed to go unchecked and punish middle and working-class families. They pretend to be on the side of small businesses because it's politically expedient, but even as they complain that letting the Bush income tax cuts expire for the top 2% hurts small business, the facts tell a different story as more than 98% of tax filers with small business income are not in that top 2% of the income tax. The Republican definition of "small business" is a mega corporation like Bechtel or PricewaterhouseCoopers. The only part of America to which they will ever make good on any "pledge" is Corporate America... and they'll do that at any cost. Perhaps that's why the GOP staffer who headed up the development of the "Pledge to America" was, up until April, a lobbyist for some of the most powerful oil, insurance and pharmaceutical and other corporate interests in the country -- including Exxon, AIG, Pfizer and the Chamber of Commerce.

So let's recap. Just this week, Republicans have proven their disdain for soldiers, students, the hurting middle class and even food consumers... Is there anyone they haven't left hung out to dry? Oh yeah... corporate special interests.

We can not put these people in charge again.

UPDATE: Add women to the groups of people Republican senators have hung out to dry just during the last weeks of September.

PFAW

Jon Kyl Attacks Women, Older Workers, Baby Seals

Today, when questioning the first panel of witnesses for the Elena Kagan confirmation, Senator Jon Kyl decided not to ask questions, but simply to attack those who had agreed to testify.

Instead of, say, listening to the witnesses, or even ignoring them, he accused three witnesses testifying about sex discrimination, age discrimination, and the devastating impact of the Exxon Valdez spill of demanding a Justice who would rule for them. All they wanted, he claimed, was “results oriented judging.”

He didn’t give them a chance to answer the accusation, so maybe we can answer for them.

No, Senator Kyl, all we want is a Justice who will follow the law.

In Ledbetter, the Court read the law in a cramped and unnatural way in order to limit the right of women to sue for discrimination. In Gross, the Court arbitrarily changed the standard used to determine discrimination on the basis of age. And in Exxon v. Baker, the Court invented a limit on punitive damages out of whole cloth—the ruling was so bad that even the Heritage Foundation thought it was judicial activism.

In the Ledbetter, Gross and Exxon cases, the Court went out of its way to side with corporations and defend them from people who were trying to hold them accountable.

Remind me again, Senator Kyl: what’s the definition of “results oriented judging?”

PFAW

Leahy: Senators Will Address Oil and the Courts in Kagan Hearings

Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he’s going to make sure the subject of oil and the courts comes up in Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, which begin next week. The Hill reported Saturday:

The chairman, who will guide the confirmation hearing, pointed to controversial cases slashing a damages award in the 1989 Exxon-Valdez spill incident, an environmental disaster that's now been dwarfed by the Gulf spill.

"Turning back the award in the Exxon-Valdez, I wonder if the Supreme Court would do that today as they watch what's happening in the Gulf," Leahy said on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, to air this weekend.

"It wasn't the liberals who said that Exxon shouldn't have to pay the amount that a jury gave the people of Alaska for their oil spill," the Vermont senator added later, critiquing conservative judges' decisions in some cases.

We, too, wonder if the current Supreme Court’s allegiance to corporate interests would lead it to give the same sort of gift to BP as it did to Exxon in 2008, if damage claims from BP’s devastating spill make their way to the high court. In fact, the pro-corporate reflexes that led to the Court to halve a jury’s award to the Exxon spill’s victims are exactly what we’d like Kagan to address in the upcoming hearings.

Take a look at the 20 questions we’ve drafted for Kagan . We’re glad to hear that a few of them may be asked.

 

 

PFAW

Fieldtrip to the Heritage Foundation

As a new arrival in DC (I started interning here two weeks ago), I was thrilled to get a chance to visit the Heritage Foundation for the first time on Wednesday. I know everyone here at People For was flattered to learn that the folks on their “Myth of the Conservative Court” panel had been reading our Rise of the Corporate Court report. A lot.

The panelists – Todd Gaziano, Hans von Spakovsky, and Manuel Miranda -- took umbrage at progressive groups like PFAW using the term “judicial activism” because, well, it belongs to them. And they like the decisions being handed down!

Spakovsky argued that progressives have called the Citizens United decision judicial activism merely because we didn’t like the outcome. He’s certainly right that we don’t like it—and neither do 80% of Americans—but we agree that our dislike doesn’t make it judicial activism. What makes it judicial activism is that the Court based its decision on utterly specious Constitutional grounds, overturning over a hundred years of settled law and its own precedent in the process. John Roberts promised to be a baseball umpire, just calling balls and strikes, but as PFAW President Michael B. Keegan pointed out, “in baseball terms, Citizens United was the equivalent of grabbing the bat and using it to beat the pitcher.”

Much to my shock, Gaziano admitted during the panel that the conservatives on the Court had exhibited pro-corporate judicial activism in one case, Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, deciding in Exxon’s favor for subjective rather than purely Constitutional or statutory reasons. So what makes him think that the Conservative judges weren’t influenced by their corporate bias in the other cases outlined in our Corporate Court report?

What was most remarkable about the panel, though, probably wasn’t the contortions that conservatives are willing to go through in order to deny “judicial activism” by conservatives on the Court—it’s that they’re still clearly trying to use it against progressives. That and the lunch they served afterwards. It was delicious.

PFAW

Oil and the Courts: Will History Repeat Itself?

As BP begins a risky attempt to stem its still-leaking oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and oil starts to lap against the shores of the Gulf Coast, lawsuits against the oil giant have begun. The devastating oil spill has already surpassed the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, and the litigation that follows it is sure to be just as contentious and lengthy. Two years ago, 19 years after the Valdez spill, the tens of thousands of victims of the disaster saw their case end up before the Supreme Court…and the Court gave Exxon Mobil a huge handout. While the facts this time are different and the legal issues won’t be exactly the same, if their case ends up before the high court, victims of the BP spill will have a legitimate reason to worry –the Roberts Court has displayed a clear willingness to go out of its way to keep individual citizens from holding big oil accountable.

In 1989, an Exxon oil tanker carrying over a million barrels of crude oil crashed off the coast of Alaska, spilling at least ten million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound. The spill destroyed wildlife habitats and the livelihoods of fishermen up and down the Northwest coast. Those affected by the spill entered into years of litigation to try to recover from Exxon some of what they had lost. In 1994, a jury awarded the 32,677 plaintiffs in the case $5 billion in punitive damages. An appeals court judge halved the amount to $2.5 billion.

Then, in 2008, the Supreme Court gave Exxon Mobil a $2 billion gift. As our Rise of the Corporate Court report explains:

[E]ven this pared-down judgment was way too much for Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Souter and Scalia. In 2008, this bloc reduced the punitive damage award from $2.5 billion to $507.5 million. Indeed, the only thing that stopped them from deleting the award altogether was that they were one vote short of being able to find that a corporation is not responsible for the reckless acts of its own managers acting in the scope of their employment.

What the 5-justice majority found, over the objections of dissenting liberal justices who accused them of legislating from the bench, was that it would impose in maritime tort cases a 1-1 ratio between compensatory and punitive damages—a formula found nowhere in the statute and essentially pulled out of a hat made by a big corporation. In dissent, Justice Stevens chastised the majority for interpreting the "congressional choice not to limit the availability of punitive damages under maritime law" as "an invitation to make policy judgments on the basis of evidence in the public domain that Congress is better able to evaluate than is this Court."

But Exxon, which amazingly ended up making money on the spill because of the resulting increase in oil prices, got its way with a corporate-leaning Court and ended up paying punitive damages equal to a day or two of company profits.

The Exxon Valdez spill was the largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters. Until now, that is.

As oil keeps leaking from a BP oil rig into the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Coast has started to feel the impact of what the White House yesterday declared to be the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

President Obama called the spill a "potentially unprecedented environmental disaster." 11 people died in the rig’s explosion, and the resulting spill has already begun to destroy Gulf Coast ecosystems and has started a devastating ripple effect through the economy.

An early estimate put the economic impact of the spill at $12.5 billion. And the damage could continue for decades.

Not surprisingly, the lawsuits from those who are losing their livelihoods have begun. As of May 21, more than 130 had been filed.

Lawsuits against BP will no doubt involve millions, and probably billions of dollars in both compensatory and punitive damages. While compensatory damages are essential to helping victims recover from a disaster of this size, punitive damages serve to dissuade the company and others like it from acting recklessly in the future. The Roberts Court’s willingness to invent a rule capping punitive damages against Exxon doesn’t bode well for anyone hoping to hold BP accountable for this disaster and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The Court has a responsibility to ensure that ordinary people get treated fairly, even when pitted against big corporations—but the current Supreme Court has made it clear that we can’t always count on that.

This disaster is a tragic reminder of why we need Justices who won’t favor the interests of the powerful over the rights of ordinary citizens.

 UPDATE (May 28, 2:30 PM):

For a sense of the scale of the disaster, take a look at NASA's stunning time-lapse video of the spill unfolding (via Mother Jones):

PFAW

Candidates Begin to Appeal to Voters’ Disappointment with Corporate Court

Republicans say they’re plotting to use any Supreme Court nomination battle to their advantage in November.

But polls show that the issue cuts strongly the other way—the American public is overwhelmingly concerned about the current Court’s pro-corporate sympathies and its failure to fully appreciate how the law affects individual Americans.

Within hours of President Obama’s announcement that he would nominate Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias seized on that message in an email to supporters. Here’s a screenshot:

Giannoulias isn’t the first candidate to appeal to the public’s discomfort with the Court’s pro-corporate bent. Last month, now-Rep. Ted Deutch decisively won a special election in Florida, after running on a platform that included a Constitutional Amendment to reverse Citizens United v. FEC.

Citizens United, Ledbetter, and Exxon v. Baker have brought home the impact that the Court’s corporate leanings can have on all Americans. We’re expecting to see a lot more office-seekers raising these issues as November approaches.

PFAW

People For’s Full Page Ad in the Post: “Is The Supreme Court Corporate America’s Newest Subsidiary?”

People For and a coalition of progressive groups will run a full page ad in the Washington Post next week, criticizing the Supreme Court’s increasing deference to corporate interests. The ad, which pictures judicial robes embroidered with the logos of large corporations and asks “Is the Supreme Court Corporate America’s newest subsidiary?,” was released today.

 The corporate sympathies of the current Supreme Court majority—displayed in cases like Citizens United v. FEC and Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire Company—have shaken Americans across the political spectrum. Last month, a People For report documented the Court’s 10-year pro-corporate trend, and the emergence of a “corporate bloc” on the Court.

 The ad lays out some of the most startling rulings of the Roberts Court:

The United States Supreme Court was founded to protect the American people, not American big business.

Yet recent rulings have allowed corporations to get away with paying women less than men, discriminating against the rights of older workers, dodging liability for faulty medical devices, ducking the Clean Water Act and avoid paying damages for the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Most alarmingly, the Court has also just declared that corporations have the same rights as people, with unlimited rights to pour money into electing corporate candidates who will protect their interests.

A poll commissioned by the groups that released the ad—People For, Alliance for Justice, and MoveOn.org—found that the majority of Americans agree that the Supreme Court favors big corporations over individuals, and want a new Justice who will not be part of that trend.

PFAW

Two Must-Read Op-Eds on the Stevens Vacancy and What This Court Fight Should Be About

In his column yesterday, E.J. Dionne laid out exactly the right prescription for liberals and Democrats in the upcoming confirmation battle over the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice John Paul Stevens.

We don't know who the nominee is yet, but we know the dangers posed by the Roberts Court and what the right-wing ideologues are doing to our country via their agenda-driven interpretations and reinterpretations of the law and the Constitution.

Citizens United is an extreme case of a general tendency: Conservative judges are regularly invoking their alleged fealty to the "original" intentions of the Founders as a battering ram against attempts to limit the power of large corporations. Such entities were not even in the imaginations of those who wrote the Constitution. To claim to know what the Founders would have made of Exxon Mobil or Goldman Sachs or PepsiCo is an exercise in arrogance.

What liberals forgot during the years when their side dominated the judiciary is that for much of our history, the courts have played a conservative role. But today's conservatives have not forgotten this legacy. Their goal is to overturn the last 70 years of judicial understandings and bring us back to a time when courts voided minimum-wage laws and all manner of other economic regulations.

Read the whole thing here >

Several days earlier, Joe Conason wrote a great piece discussing the politics of Supreme Court confirmation battles and why Democrats and progressives should be eager to have a constitutional debate about the role of the Court and how the Right's definition of "constitutional" really means the dangerous upending of the traditional understanding of the Constitution which has served America well.

Conason writes:

What exactly do they mean by "constitutional"? On the increasingly powerful fringes of the Republican right, a category that includes some Tea Party activists, the Constitution is interpreted as prohibiting every social and political advance since before the Civil War. They would outlaw the Federal Reserve System, the progressive income tax, Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection, consumer regulation and every other important federal initiative of the past century.

Targets of the "constitutional conservatives" would certainly include civil rights legislation that guarantees equal protection under law to minorities and women...

Click here to read the whole piece >

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Senator Sessions Plays the “Judicial Activism” Card

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today, Senator Jeff Sessions said that that Goodwin Liu’s writings represent “liberal judicial activism.” And he doesn’t like it!

But what Sessions apparently does like is conservative judicial activism. Overturn more than a century of settled campaign finance law? Limit women’s ability to recover for being discriminated against on their jobs? Hand billions of dollars to Exxon? Rewrite the Voting Rights Act? That’s a-ok! “Liberal judicial activism,” (by which I assume he means opposing those decisions)? Bad.

Senator Sessions’s ability to keep a straight face while delivering such patently farcical attack is impressive. His stale talking points aren’t.
 

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The First Corporate Ad – An Avalanche Begins with One Flake

The ad below may not look like much, but it’s a sign of much greater – and troubling – things to come. It appears to be the very first political ad purchased with corporate money, all thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.

The ad ran in a handful of small Texas newspapers and was purchased by KDR Development Inc., a local real estate firm, to oppose a political enemy of the firm’s president, Larry Durrett.

Durrett, who also runs a chain of fast food franchises, told the Texas Tribune that his “businesses do better under conservative people.” Asked why he used corporate rather than personal money, Durrett said that he took “the money out of the pocket that's got some money in there.”

Apply the same logic to giant corporations, and you can see we have a massive problem on our hands. The Supreme Court gave Exxon the same right to spend a billion dollars as it gave Durrett to spend a few thousand.

Durrett’s modest ad buy is a warning to us all – the avalanche of corporate cash is coming. Click here to join our campaign for government by the people, not corporations.

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