Sunday, May 5, 2013

Worlds Colliding All Over My Face

As Reader(s)™ may have noticed, Mr. Gillette and I disagree about many things. But one thing we have in common, apparently, is non-appreciation of Slate legal affairs reporter Dahlia Lithwick. Unfortunately for us, Ms. Lithwick has been given a prize by her peers for the quality of her Supreme Court reporting. Upon learning of this, I honestly thought for a moment that the prize was one of those anti-prizes (like a Golden Raspberry). No such luck.

My general beef with Ms. Lithwick is her cycnical, personality-focused coverage of the Supreme Court. The implicit premise of every dispatch she files is that the Supreme Court justices make their decisions based on ideology at best and temper tantrums at worst. It's rather unbearable.

So, for instance, you'll see her complaining that: 
Whether it’s through forced arbitration, limited class certification, shifting burdens of proof or other subtle tricks, the Court has gone beyond locking out litigants and well into the realm of aiding and abetting powerful corporate interests.
But I've noticed a conspicuous silence when "powerful corporate interests" somehow lose at the Supreme Court. For example, see my report on Pacific v. Valldolid (2012):
[T]he losing party in this case was Big Oil, which (along with all other big businesses) the Supreme Court supposedly kowtows to. [And] the majority opinion, written by Justice Thomas, uses textual analysis to reach a result that favors the little guy—in this case a manual laborer whose job was known in the trade as a "roustabout." 
Well, you may say, sometimes Justice Kennedy gets swung, but the Thomas-Scalia axis always be comin' down on my boys! Yet it was Justice Thomas who came to the defense of Mr Valladolid, the lowly roustabout. And then when no one's looking the Court goes 8-1 in favor of "big business" with, ahem, Justice Scalia in stirring dissent:
In Justice Kagen's first published opinion, the pro-business Roberts Court predictably sided with the creditor—a big, bad credit card company—by interpreting the Bankruptcy Code to more or less incorporate an IRS regulation that makes clear that taxpayers may not take a deduction for ownership costs unless they have car payments to make. 
Only one Justice had the courage to stand up and dissent on behalf of the poor debtor:  Justice Scalia.  He interpreted "applicable" so that simply owning a car would qualify the debtor to deduct the specified amount from his or her disposable income.  To the charge that his interpretation rendered the word "applicable" superfluous, Scalia responded, "The canon against superfluity is not a canon against verbosity."
These are just two cases I've happened to notice and blog about. I don't believe I've ever seen Ms. Lithwick so much as acknowledge any of these counter-narratives. Why not, I wonder? The answer is obvious: she's an ideologue, not a reporter.

But the plot thickens. Not only has Ms. Lithwick's ideological reporting become the subject of fawning praise and prizes, despite my our lonely efforts to undermine her, but the Roberts Court's supposed pro-business slant is back in the news because an article co-authored by Blog-favorite Richard Posner and published in none other than the Minnesota Law Review (my baby!) purports to prove it for all time. Adam Liptak has the story in the New York Times.

I remain unconvinced. Once again, the main cases trotted out to establish the Roberts Court's pro-business bona fides are cases involving class actions and arbitration. I've read many articles on this topic, but none (other than my own, of course) notes that pro-arbitration and anti-class-action policies are clear favorites of federal statutory law:
Mandatory arbitration, for example, is governed by a federal statute. Congress passed that statute, of course. Similarly, the main recent innovation in class action practice is another federal statute, the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. Conservative judges surely take opportunities to interpret these federal statutes in conservative ways, just as liberal judges do the opposite. But in both these examples the real problem is that political conservatives have succeeded in passing laws that enshrine policies that conservatives favor. That's democracy, in all its gory, and it is certainly not the role of judges—who (as we can all agree, apparently) are not good at resolving policy issues—to undermine those policies.
So we have a pro-business Supreme Court, sure, but only to the extent that we have pro-business laws because we are a pro-business country full of pro-business people. I think I speak for the clear majority of Americans when I say to you anti-business people: Deal with it, commies.


  1. I thought they were our efforts to undermine her. Otherwise, an excellent post.


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