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How the Corporate Right Hijacked America's Courts to Enrich the Top 1 Percent

America's political-economy is caught in a vicious cycle, with concentrated wealth at the top leading to outsized political power.
 
 
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For a generation, America's political-economy has been gripped in a vicious cycle. Those at the top of the economic pile have taken an ever-growing share of the nation's income, and then leveraged that haul into ever-greater political power, which they have in turn used to rewrite the rules of “the market” in their favor. Wash, rinse and repeat.

It's the result of years of institutional investments by the corporate Right to advance a reactionary legal regime in America's courts. In the process, the richest Americans now have their hands in both our legislative and judicial branches, while working America has become a voiceless stepping stone.

“The more pernicious effect of economic inequality comes indirectly through its impact on political inequality,” says MIT economist Daron Acemoglu, co-author of Why Nations Fail . In an interview with Think Progress, Acemoglu explained what he called, “a general pattern throughout history”:

When economic inequality increases, the people who have become economically more powerful will often attempt to use that power in order to gain even more political power. And once they are able to monopolize political power, they will start using that for changing the rules in their favor.

This dynamic is best understood in the realm of electoral politics. In a study of something that most people already consider to be obvious, Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Princeton, examined lawmakers' responsiveness to the interests of various constituents by income, and concluded:

In almost every instance, senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes ( PDF).

Or consider ALEC, an organization funded by major corporations that writes laws that, among other things, curtail workers' rights to organize and disenfranchises the poor, elderly and people of color. It then lobbies state lawmakers to pass its “model legislation,” and sweetens the deal with junkets – all-expenses-paid vacations at posh hotels for legislators and their families – where they can rub shoulders with the titans of industry.

Look at the fruit that union-busting bears for the wealthiest Americans:

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(click for larger version)

Another way the wealthiest Americans have rigged the rules so more of the national income flows upward may be just as consequential, but less well understood. A 30-year campaign to push America's courts sharply to the right has borne abundant fruit for those in the top 1 percent.

We see it reflected in today's Supreme Court, which, having unleashed a flood of super-PAC cash into our political campaigns in a decision that was one of the most brazen examples of judicial activism in the court's history, now stands poised to overturn not only the Democrats' healthcare bill, but much of the jurisprudence that supported the welfare state developed since the New Deal.

A study by the Constitutional Accountability Center found that the Chamber of Commerce had won 65 percent of its cases heard by the court under Chief Justice John Roberts, compared to 56 percent under former Chief Justice William Rehnquist (1986-2005) and just 43 percent of the cases that came during the Burger court (1969-1986).

But that's only the beginning. “The Roberts Court,” wrote Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, is “slowly but surely... giving corporate America a handbook on how to engage in misconduct. In case after case, it seems big companies are being given the playbook on how to win even bigger the next time.”

 
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