A Cancer On Our Legal System

By Brian Wojtalewicz
Originally posted in The Appleton Press on June 28, 2011.

Very few Americans realize that some very important legal protections for citizens are being slashed by the five justices of the U.S. Supreme Court that were appointed by Republican presidents. They have become the clear champions of the mega-corporations that have been gaining more and more power over our lives.

In one 5-4 decision, they ruled that huge banks, phone corporations and large employers can enforce arbitration clauses that they stick into the fine print of “contracts” that the powerless citizen or employee must sign in order to get their credit card, their phone or their job. The arbitration clause dictates that if you believe the company has stolen from you or illegally treated you like dirt, you can’t take them to court; your only recourse is to go through an arbitration process, which the corporation has set up and designed. The single arbitrator who will decide your fate can easily be some lawyer with a background of having worked for (guess who?) corporations. These five Republican justices sidestepped the 7th Amendment to the Bill of Rights of our Constitution, which says that a citizen has a right to a trial by jury when they were treated illegally and want compensation.

Another gift to the corporatocracy by the “Gang of 5” was given directly to Wal-Mart.  Thousands of women around the country brought in excellent proof that Wal-Mart discriminated against women in management positions and pay rate.  They ruled for Wal-Mart, dismissing the womens’ class action case.

They also recently handed Big Pharma a pair of victories.  They shielded the makers of generic drugs from most lawsuits by injured people, and declared that drug makers had a “free-speech right” to buy private prescription records in order to jack up their sales pitches to doctors!  Federal law requires that the original makers of drugs have to have black box warnings about potential bad side effects or dangers. But the Gang of 5 held that generic makers of the same drugs don’t have to give this warning. Never mind that about 75% of prescriptions purchased in this country are for lower-cost generic drugs.  We are going to be living with the effects of the Bush presidencies for a long, long time, citizens.

Then we recently learned that Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the Gang of 5 Republican appointees, appears to be “on the take.” He happens to be the owner of a beautiful bust of Abraham Lincoln, valued at $15,000. He received it from the notoriously right-wing American Enterprise Institute.  In three separate cases, Justice Thomas has ruled in favor of this Institute in briefs that they filed with the court on significant cases. He has also attended fundraisers put on by the oily billionaire Koch Brothers, the notorious financiers of pro-pollution and anti-worker politicians. Then there is his relationship with Harlan Crow, who was one of the financiers of the fraudulent “Swift-Boating” campaign against John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.   Crow financed a library project dedicated to “Justice” Thomas, and handed Thomas’s wife $500,000.00 to create a Tea Party group.  Immoral influence?  Oh, heavens no!

Having worked for over 30 years in the law, I have gotten to know quite a few judges here in Minnesota. I don’t believe any one of them would ever do what Justice Thomas has done.  It is an insult to the legal profession, and fundamentally wrong for any system of justice.

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