Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Corporations, as you undoubtedly know, achieved the legal status of persons in 1886 when Supreme Court Justice Morrison Remick Waite, a damnable judicial activist if ever there was one, asserted in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company that:
The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does.Justice Zip-It's fiat, which finds no support anywhere in the actual text of the Constitution, has had quite a few (perhaps) unanticipated consequences. To cite but one, pointed out by our distinguished colleague Greg Palast: when a human being sues a large corporation, the defendant can often prevail by the simple tactic of outliving the plaintiff:
Next month marks 19 years since the Exxon Valdez dumped its load of crude oil across the Prince William Sound, Alaska. A big gooey load of this crude spilled over the lands of the Chenega Natives. Paul Kompkoff was a seal-hunter for the village. That is, until Exxon’s ship killed the seal and poisoned the rest of Chenega’s food supply.If you are old enough to remember 2004, you certainly recall the scorn and contumely heaped upon vice presidential candidate John Edwards, who, in his lawyerin' days, helped recover damages for families whose children had been maimed by corporate negligence. (One such lawsuit, brought on behalf of a five-year-old whose intestines had been ripped out by the suction of a defective pool drain, was memorably dismissed by CNN's resident anus Tucker Carlson as "the Jacuzzi case.") You may also remember the bizarre moment during the presidential debates when dithering fuckwit John Kerry, in response to a totally unrelated question, trotted out a half-assed Republican talking point about the dire need for tort reform. "Tort reform," as Palast defines it, means taking away "the God-given right of any American, rich or poor, to sue the bastards who crush your child’s skull through product negligence, make your heart explode with a faulty medical device, siphon off your pension funds, or poison your food supply with spilled oil":
While cameras rolled, Exxon executives promised they’d compensate everyone. Today, before the US Supreme Court, the big oil company’s lawyers argued that they shouldn’t have to pay Paul [Kompkoff] or other fishermen the damages ordered by the courts.
They can’t pay Paul anyway. He’s dead.
That was part of Exxon’s plan. They told me that. In 1990 and 1991, I worked for the Chenega and Chugach Natives of Alaska on trying to get Exxon to pay up to save the remote villages of the Sound. Exxon’s response was, “We can hold out in court until you’re all dead” . . . .
But Exxon didn’t do it alone. They had enablers. One was a failed oil driller named “Dubya.” Exxon was the largest contributor to George W. Bush’s political career after Enron. They were a team, Exxon and Enron. The Chairman of Enron, Ken Lay, prior to his felony convictions, funded a group called Texans for Law Suit Reform. The idea was to prevent Natives, consumers and defrauded stockholders from suing felonious corporations and their chiefs.
When George went to Washington, Enron and Exxon got their golden pass in the appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts. Today, as the court heard Exxon’s latest stall, Roberts said, in defense of Exxon’s behavior in Alaska, “What more can a corporation do?”
Now, all of the Democratic candidates have seen through this ‘tort reform’ con – and so did a Senator named McCain who, in 2001, for example, voted for the Patients Bill of Rights allowing claims against butchers with scalpels. Then something happened to Senator McCain: the guy who stuck his neck out for litigants got his head chopped off when he ran for President in the Republican Party in 2000 for what one lobbyists’ website called McCain’s, “his go-it-alone moralism.”All of which leads us to wonder: is the so-called "Straight Talk Express" running on a Moebius Strip?
So the Senator did what I call, The McCain Hunch. Again and again he grabbed his ankles and apologized to the K Street lobbyists, reversing his positions on, well, you name it. For example, in 2001, he said of Bush’s tax cuts, “I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans.” Now, in bad conscience, the Senator vows to make these tax cuts permanent.
On “Tort Reform,” the about-face was dizzying. McCain voted to undermine his own 2001 Patients Bill of Rights with votes in 2005 to limit suits to enforce it. He then added his name to a bill that would have thrown sealhunter Kompkoff’s suit out of federal court.
In 2003, McCain voted against Bush’s Energy Plan, an industry oil-gasm. But this week, following Exxon’s report that it sucked in $40.6 billion in earnings last year, the largest profit haul in planetary history, McCain failed to join Clinton, Obama, most Democrats and some Republicans on a bill to require a teeny sliver of industry profit go to alternative energy sources. On oil independence, McCain is AWOL, missing in action.