A Different Legal System for the Rich: Imagine Getting Off Easy for Hit-and-Run Because You Run a Hedge Fund
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A federal court found that AT&T’s provision did just that, and AT&T took the case up to the Supreme Court, where most observers expect the Roberts court to side with the telecom. “The current court is very friendly to businesses,” wrote Fitzpatrick, “and there is nothing businesses would like more than to exempt themselves from class action proceedings.”
If the court goes down AT&T's path, the consequences could be staggering. It could be the end of class action litigation. In light of Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s that made it difficult to certify personal-injury class actions, virtually all class actions today occur between parties who are in transactional relationships with one another… Once given the green light, it is hard to imagine any company would not want its shareholders, consumers and employees to agree to such provisions.
While you and I must be personally accountable, Fitzgerald stated the obvious in describing the likely outcome of such a decision: “if people don't sue, businesses know they can cheat people out of small amounts with impunity.”
To Control the Economy, Influence the Law
Now, one might argue that these are separate and unrelated threads -- anecdotes that don’t necessarily demonstrate a trend. And that may be true.
But consider that the same wealthy conservative donors who invested billions of dollars to build their own media and a network of think-tanks and PR agencies to inject their ideologically informed economic views into the mainstream also invested heavily and strategically in influencing our legal culture.
Take, for example, the efforts of the John M. Olin Foundation. According to Rightweb, “Since the 1970s, the foundation has been providing funding to law and economics programs in schools across the nation, and to legal organizations such as the Federalist Society,” which was founded in 1982 by former attorney general Ed Meese, controversial Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, and Ted Olsen (who years later would win the infamous Bush v. Gore case before the Supreme Court in 2000 and then go on to serve as Bush’s solicitor general).
According to the New York Times, “Much of Olin's giving has centered on law schools,” where the Federalist Society has had a significant impact.
The society now has chapters at almost every law school, and a swarm of alumni in the Bush administration dedicated to what the group calls limited government and judicial restraint. "It's not clear whether we would have existed without Olin's support," said Eugene Meyer, the society's president.
Olin has spent $68 million on law and economics programs, including those at Harvard, Yale, Stanford and the University of Chicago. "I saw it as a way into the law schools -- I probably shouldn't confess that," [Olin director James] Piereson said.
In 2005, the John M. Olin Foundation actually declared “mission accomplished,” and closed up shop. The New York Times reported that after “three decades financing the intellectual rise of the right,” the foundation’s services were no longer needed.
Given the success Olin and other like-minded philanthropists have had, these may not be unrelated anecdotes, but taken together with our increasingly lopsided distribution of wealth, these stories may represent more evidence of our gradual slide into plutocracy.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) . Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter .