Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The People vs. The Powerful Part II

As I predicted on June 6, today you can put one more on the scoreboard for the powerful. George W. Bush may not have packed the Supreme Court enough to keep habeas corpus down, but when it comes to corporate interests you can be sure that John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and company will stand up with their corporate masters. As sure as Pavlov rung his bell and the dogs came running, Samuel Alito would have been on the side of Big Oil, except that he owns stock in the corporation in question, and something called judicial ethics got in the way.

Today, the Roberts Court in a 5-3 decision, reduced the amount of punitive damages that ExxonMobil has to pay for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, from $2.5 billion to $507.5 million. Chief Justice Roberts, along with Justices Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy and Souter voted in the majority. Justices Breyer, Stevens and Ginsburg dissented. As previously mentioned, Justice Alito sat this one out.
It took Exxon Mobil just under two days to bring in $2.5 billion in revenue during the first quarter of 2007.
And it's taken Alaskans 19 years just to get approximately one-half a day's profits in damages paid to them, after having to watch the original damages whittled down first from $5 billion to $2.5 billion, and then down to $507.5 million.

As I pointed out before:
This is the same company that reported the largest annual profit in U.S. history in 2006, with $39.5 billion. It followed up 2006, by besting its record of the previous year by reporting $40.61 billion in profit for 2007. And as the Washington Post noted, ExxonMobil's 2006 "revenue of $377.6 billion exceeded the gross domestic product of all but 25 countries."


Another way that ExxonMobil has used its profit, as is the case with many large socially irresponsible corporations, is that it has tied this case up in the courts for the past 19 years. Why tie the case up in litigation for 19 years? Just ask investigative journalist Greg Palast.

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 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.”

ExxonMobil doesn't care about the damage it did in Prince William Sound. It's been fighting for 19 years to not pay what it owes Alaska residents. There are still environmental consequences that have lasted to this day. And let's not forget the emotional damage, including suicides and divorces, courtesy of ExxonMobil. And then there is physical damage, as in persistent ailments for the cleanup workers. But none of this matters to ExxonMobil, because the victims will all be dead before they get any money. If there's a way to drag out paying the $507.5 million, ExxonMobil will find it.

Someone explain to me how the United States Supreme Court got into the business of reducing or limiting punitive damages? I'm no legal scholar but one semester of Constitutional Law at USC taught me that the Court is supposed to rule on matters of constitutionality. The last time I read the Constitution, it didn't say "thou shalt determine appropriate damages for aggrieved parties in tort claims", among the powers enumerated to the Supreme Court.

Are there any Republicans out there who still want to talk about activist judges? Today, there was no constitutional question answered by the court. Instead, the Supreme Court overstepped its constitutional authority and made public policy, by determining when enough is enough with regard to punitive damages. And this was a complete travesty of justice.


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