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Will Court remain business-friendly?

John Dimsdale Oct 1, 2007

Will Court remain business-friendly?

John Dimsdale Oct 1, 2007


BOB MOON: It’s the first Monday in October — and as always, the U.S. Supreme Court began another term of hearing cases.

In the past year, business interests have fared very well in the decisions handed down by the court, newly led by Chief Justice John Roberts. Remember, Roberts was a lawyer for big businesses before he became a federal judge.

Will that business-friendly record continue? John Dimsdale reports several cases will be putting that question to the test.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Not only with its rulings, but also with the cases it decides not to hear, this Supreme Court is inclined to set a high bar for legal appeals from employees, shareholders and competitors who feel wronged by businesses.

TOM GOLDSTEIN: Last year, the Supreme Court threw a lot of cases that they viewed as meritless out of court.

That’s Akin Gump partner Tom Goldstein, who writes for SCOTUS Blog. He says one case the court has accepted this term will decide whether stock owners who feel cheated can sue the accountants and bankers and lawyers who are accused of either contributing to, or turning a blind eye to, corporate fraud.

GOLDSTEIN: This case comes to the Supreme Court with the stench of Enron on it, because that’s what everybody has in mind — massive securities fraud that caused people to lose their pensions. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who are concerned that this could create debilitating potential liability that would cause people just not to advise companies for fear of securities-fraud suits.

The court has accepted a half dozen cases dealing with labor and employment law. Three of them involve age discrimination. One will decide whether a boss’ retaliation against a worker who complained about discrimination is just another case of discrimination. But what strikes Virginia Seitz, a partner with Sidley Austin, is that so far there are no union-related cases.

VIRGINIA SEITZ: The court’s docket symbolizes the state of the American economy. What are the big disputes in the workplace right now? And they are disputes about federal statutory rights, as opposed to disputes about enforcement of collective bargaining agreements. And that’s just because there aren’t as many workplaces where there is a union on the site.

The AFL-CIO declined comment on this year’s Supreme Court case schedule.

The court will also wade into patent-law protections for technology companies. Marcia Coyle, the Supreme Court correspondent for the National Law Journal, says this case, too, reflects changes in the economy.

MARCIA COYLE: As you know, as our manufacturing industry has declined, intellectual property is seen as sort of the engine of our economy. And many businesses have been unhappy with how the lower courts have been dealing with issues affecting patents, trademarks, copyrights.

And the court this term will also decide whether state or federal governments have the right to regulate Internet sales of tobacco across state lines, and whether an injured patient can sue in state court if a defective medical device was approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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