In cases brought by business interests over the last nine months,
including an effort to curb shareholder class actions and challenges
to environmental regulations, the court has either issued narrow
rulings that fell short of what those interests sought or ruled
against them outright.
By contrast, the court last year issued a string of rulings in favor
of business, including several that curbed consumer claims against
Lawyers and law professors following the business cases offer
various explanations for the losses and narrower victories this
year. One theory is that the court under Chief Justice John Roberts
is reluctant to overturn longstanding precedents, even when they
happen to be anti-business.
Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University
School of Law in Cleveland, said the court has shown "it is more a
minimalist status-quo court than a 'pro-business' court."
By one measure the business community has fared reasonably well this
year. Its leading representative before the high court, the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce, has so far amassed a record of 10 wins to 4
losses during the nine-month term due to end next Monday. That's a
winning percentage just slightly lower than last year's 14-3 record.
In the previous year the Chamber went undefeated at 7-0.
The Chamber participates mainly by filing friend-of-the-court
briefs, but is also directly involved in some cases, such as
Two cases yet to be decided involve the Chamber, including a
challenge to President Barack Obama's appointments to the National
Labor Relations Board, which has the potential to be a broad ruling.
Even a win in that case -- due to be decided as early as Wednesday
-- would mean a year of mixed results.
The Chamber's wins have mostly been on technical issues. Even when
the court has ruled in favor of business interests this term, the
justices have ruled narrowly and rejected arguments that would have
led to blockbuster decisions.
On Monday, the court did exactly that in cases on securities class
actions and environmental regulations.
The court stopped short of overturning a key precedent that favors
plaintiffs in securities class actions and mostly upheld the
authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate
greenhouse gases under a long-running air pollution program. The
environmental ruling was so mild that the EPA announced it was
pleased with the ruling even though it had technically lost.
Monday's ruling in the environmental case handed a partial win to
industry by exempting smaller pollution sources from the regulation.
"It wasn’t a perfect win but we think it was a very positive step in
the right direction and a shot across the bows of the EPA," said
Kate Comerford Todd, a lawyer in the Chamber's legal office, in an
Saying that "overall it's a good term for the business community,"
Todd cited a January win for Daimler AG in which the court put
limits on the ability of plaintiffs to file human rights claims
against multinational companies in U.S. courts.
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In the securities class action case, which was brought to the court
by Halliburton Co, the justices were unanimous in reaching a middle
ground that could benefit corporate defendants, but the court didn't
go as far as the business community hoped.
Roberts himself wrote the majority opinion in which the court
declined to overturn a key precedent that favors shareholders,
saying Halliburton had failed to show the "special justification"
that is required before the court throws out its prior holdings.
"We are disappointed," said Lily Fu Claffee, the Chamber's chief
The bulk of the Chamber's outright wins were on technical legal
issues, such as a decision in December in favor of Sprint Corp over
a dispute with the utilities regulator in Iowa.
By contrast, the Chamber lost some higher-stakes cases. Most
notably, the court in April upheld a separate environmental
regulation proposed by President Barack Obama’s administration that
was strongly opposed by utilities. The court, on a 6-2 vote, ruled
that the EPA had not exceeded its authority in requiring some states
to limit pollution that contributes to unhealthy air in neighboring
The court also found against the Chamber in a 6-3 vote in March that
whistleblower protections apply not only to publicly traded
companies but also to subcontractors that do business with them. The
ruling extends the protections to investment advisers, law firms,
accounting firms and other such businesses.
Business also didn't fare particularly well in seven other cases
involving corporate interests in which the Chamber didn't
participate and that didn't involve a company versus company
dispute. Business interests lost four out of seven, including one in
which the court said on a 7-2 vote that victims of Allen Stanford's
Ponzi scheme could sue lawyers and insurance brokers who worked for
Doug Kendall, president of the left-leaning Constitutional
Accountability Center, said the business community's failure this
year to reach its goals may stem from its having taken "very
aggressive positions," setting its sights too high to garner a
majority on the nine-member court.
"They didn't get what they asked for, but they are playing offense,"
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller, Amy Stevens
and John Pickering)
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