Citizens United gets most of the attention as a key and decisive mistake, or purposeful over-reach, depending on your perspective, by the Roberts Court. But despite the broad expansion of corporate power ushered in by the Citizens United, it is not the Roberts Court only significant pro-corporate, anti-individual decision and it’s not the decision that has done the most immediate harm to Americans. That distinction is reserved for AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion.
Just over a year ago the Roberts Court gave a full-throated endorsement of corporation’s contractual rights to block the most effective civil justice remedy for holding bad companies accountable to those they harm: the class-action lawsuit.
To effectively strip away an individual’s right to, essentially, collectively organize in the legal setting and therefore bargain more effectively, all a corporation need to do is draft a contract that requires unsatisfied customers settle disputes through arbitration and prohibits unhappy customers from arbitrating as a collective.
At the end of April the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen released a report titled “Justice Denied” that showed that since Conception, judges had cited the decision at least 76 times as a reason to prevent potential class-action lawsuits from moving ahead. In many cases the judges made it clear they were ruling against the plaintiffs only because they must, because Concepcion basically made it impossible to come to any other decision.
David Segal further breaks down the damage done by Concepcion, here but it all boils down to one basic concept and that is restricting individual access to the federal court system. And when we restrict individual access to the public system we lose the last available check on governmental abuse of power and criminal corporate greed. When coupled with the national assault on voting rights, disenfranchisement begins to take on a much broader and more pernicious meaning.
Photo from dctim1 via flickr.