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Supreme Court favors business, study says

Research mirrors Democrats’ stance on picking Kagan

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press / June 11, 2010

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WASHINGTON — A study by a liberal interest group says that the Supreme Court of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has a decidedly probusiness tilt, echoing the line Democrats are taking in support of the nomination of Elena Kagan to fill its latest vacancy.

The analysis from the Constitutional Accountability Center finds that the court’s five conservative justices side with the US Chamber of Commerce at least two-thirds of the time, while the four liberal justices disagree with the position by the nation’s largest business group more than half the time.

The Chamber of Commerce said that the analysis is simplistic and that many business cases unite the court’s conservatives and liberals.

But Doug Kendall, the center’s president, said the study confirms what he and many Democrats have been saying, especially since the court voted, 5 to 4, in January to take limits off independent corporate spending in political campaigns.

“The procorporate rulings of the activist Roberts court are already a very big story,’’ he said.

President Obama stirred controversy when he criticized the court’s campaign finance decision at his State of the Union speech in January, with six justices in attendance in the House chamber.

When Obama nominated Kagan, the current solicitor general, in May, he praised her for defending “the rights of shareholders and ordinary citizens against unscrupulous corporations.’’

Democratic senators and liberal interest groups have struck similar chords, and the theme is likely to recur at Kagan’s hearing beginning later this month.

For its study, the center looked at 53 cases decided since Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the court early in 2006 and in which the Chamber of Commerce played a role.

The group won 64 percent of those cases and 71 percent of closely divided cases — those with five-justice majorities, the report said.

Alito has the highest support for the Chamber of Commerce’s position, 75 percent overall and 100 percent in the close cases. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy supported the group’s position 67 percent of the time, and the other three conservatives — Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — were between Alito and Kennedy.

Robin Conrad, who heads the Chamber of Commerce’s active litigation division, said the study used “loaded, inflammatory language’’ that ignored some pertinent facts.

“The vast majority of our cases are decided by lopsided majorities that include what they call the left wing of the court,’’ Conrad said.

Conrad also noted that the study called the court’s ruling cutting Exxon Corp.’s damages in the Exxon Valdez spill by 80 percent “ideologically divided.’’ But Conrad said, “Last I read, Justice Souter wrote the majority in that case.’’ David Souter, since retired, was generally part of the court’s liberal bloc.

“This is a political season, and people are being particularly political,’’ Conrad said.