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Entries tagged "Supreme Court"

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Corporations Commit Atrocities, My Friend

February 29, 2012 ·

The Supreme Court heard arguments in a crucial case yesterday that could have major ramifications for corporate accountability.

Nigerian protesters against Shell. Photo by OilChange International.In Kiobel vs. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., the multinational oil giant commonly known as Shell is accused of helping the Nigerian government commit atrocities.

A dozen Nigerian citizens, all granted political asylum in the United States, filed the lawsuit. These refugees include victims of torture and people with relatives who were executed. The suit is named after Esther Kiobel, the widow of one of the victims. The court's conservative justices, who are in the majority, indicated that they may opt to side with the corporations, the Los Angeles Times reports.

To get a firm grasp of the importance of this case, please read this op-ed that Peter Weiss published last week in The New York Times. Weiss, a human rights law expert, pioneered efforts to use the Alien Tort Statute as a way to try the perpetrators of human rights crimes committed abroad in U.S. courts. In the commentary, he wrote:

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Royal Dutch Shell and against the plaintiffs, multinational corporations — particularly in mining and other extractive industries — could draw the lesson that it is now safer to forge alliances with autocratic regimes that have poor human rights records because they will not be judged culpable in the way individuals can be.

Today, the Times' online edition features a debate about corporate and human rights. It includes an essay by Vincent Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), who argues that since corporations obtained "extensive rights," in the Citizens United ruling, "now we must enforce their responsibilities."

Weiss is CCR's vice president and a former chair of the Institute for Policy Studies board of trustees. His op-ed concludes with a comparison of Citizens United and Kiobel:

The Supreme Court has "an extraordinary choice to make, in juxtaposition to its previous ruling in Citizens United: whether to accept an argument that, in effect, leaves corporations less culpable than individuals are for human rights violations committed abroad — or whether to hold that if a 200-year-old law can be used to hold individual violators to account, it can be used against corporate violators as well.

A decision affirming that Shell should go unpunished in the Niger Delta case would leave us with a Supreme Court that seems of two minds: in the words of Justice John Paul Stevens’s dissent from Citizens United, it threatens “to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation” by treating corporations as people to let them make unlimited political contributions, even as it treats corporations as if they are not people to immunize them from prosecution for the most grievous human rights violations.

A more startling paradox is difficult to imagine.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, the Institute's non-profit editorial service.

Interview with Roe v. Wade Lawyer Sarah Weddington

January 20, 2012 ·

January 22 marks the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. That ruling has been called the most significant of the 20th century. Certainly it was the most significant for women.

The case was argued by a 27-year old female lawyer from Texas — Sarah Weddington, in her first appearance before the Court. Female lawyers were so rare in those days that the Supreme Court lawyers lounge didn't even have a ladies room. There were no female Supreme Court justices. Weddington faced a wall of older white men.

Almost 40 years later, Sarah Weddington is still a tireless advocate for women. She now teaches leadership at the University of Texas at Austin, writes and speaks nationwide, and continues to educate young women and men on rights and responsibilities, and the fragile nature of progress without vigilance. I took a look back (and a look forward) with her last week on my radio show, Equal Time with Martha Burk. Here are some highlights:

Sarah Weddington. Photo by Daily Texan.

MB: When you argued the case, you were a young inexperienced lawyer. Were you scared?

SW: Well, yes. I cared so much about the result. I was the only person that would be allowed to speak to the Court for the plaintiffs, asking them to overturn the restrictive Texas law. So it was fear-invoking, awe-inspiring, and something you just want so much to win you can taste it.

MB: You won the case 7-2. It seems like every decision that comes out of the Court now is 5-4. Is the Court more politicized now than it was then?

SW: I think it definitely is, particularly on the issue of abortion. Now you have several judges who are very strongly in favor of Roe v. Wade, but you also have several who are strongly against. We have two women judges that we're not absolutely sure what their position is going to be. They didn't really talk about it in their confirmation hearings, and the Court hasn't had a case [on Roe] since they've been on it.

MB: You did something very unusual when you testified against Clarence Thomas. You brought a picture of a pregnant Thomas to the confirmation hearing.

SW: Yes. He had made some comments that were so outrageous and controversial, and I was trying to say that if he had ever been in the position to be pregnant, he would have much more sympathy and understanding of the way women feel when they're pregnant and don't want to be. There are so many in such dire economic straits — many couples who both have to work to take care of their families, and there is no day care. If Thomas could appreciate the position so many are in, he would understand why it should not be his decision, it should not be the government's decision. They should have a right of privacy on when to continue and when to terminate a pregnancy.

MB: Did the case hang primarily on the right to privacy?

SW: Yes. We had in our Supreme Count packets these documents from previous cases where the Supreme Court had said there is a right to privacy in the use of contraception. We were trying to get them to pull that rubber band a little wider, and say it also covers the decision of whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy. But when you argue a case before the Supreme Court you will argue anything that you think might be possible, so we had many [other possible arguments], in other words several parts of the constitution that might apply.

MB: It seems the opposition is no longer attacking the right to abortion head on — they're concentrating more on onerous restrictions — waiting periods, mandatory sonograms, clinic size requirements and the like.

SW: There is a real split in the opposition. Most of the opposition in recent years has not concentrated on making abortion illegal. They're waiting for the Supreme Court to change so they can win. [In the meantime], they want to make it unavailable. [These restrictions] belittle women and their families who try to make the best decision for their own situations.

MB: Given the Roberts court, do you believe a successful challenge will be argued on the privacy issue or will it be "fetal rights" or even "fertilized egg bills" trying to declare that eggs have the same rights as everyone else?

SW: Even that would probably have several [affirmative] votes on the Court. But the voters have turned down similar laws, most recently in Mississippi. So the voters have said there are some things you should not have the government deciding. I trust the voters on those cases more than I do the U.S. Supreme Court.

MB: Do you see the fervor in young people today? Or do they think we've got their rights won?

SW: I do see young people trying to help, supporting Planned Parenthood. But I'd say far greater numbers are having such a hard time just going to work, getting money for school and the like. So it's harder for them, but I wish somehow we could get their attention. Part of it is for young people to know what they have now that women didn't have before. We never want to go back to the way it was. And we really need the help of voters and of younger people to save their ability to make their own choices.

MB: You teach leadership at the University of Texas. If you could give only one piece of advice to young people today, what would it be?

SW: Leadership is about leaving your thumb print — a concept of trying to leave the world a better place for others. So I would say to young people, ask yourself, what can I do and how can I leave the world a better place than I found it.

Listen to Weddington's full interview here:

OtherWords contributor Martha Burk is a political psychologist, women's issues expert, and director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO). Follow her on twitter at @MarthaBurk.

From the Frontlines: June 28, 2010

June 28, 2010 ·

SCOTUS is on a roll today, between its significantly harmful gun ban ruling and a rejection of a lower-court ruling that tobacco companies violated racketeering laws by selling a product they knew was harmful.

Oil can't rain from the sky, finds MoJo's Kate Sheppard, addressing a viral video that's been making the rounds in the last week. But "there's a bigger concern than oil visibly raining from the sky; it's the toxins you can't see."

Our Global Economy director, Sarah Anderson, spoke at the US Social Forum about how street heat can continue to strengthen Wall Street reform.

The Tides blog has a great post about how media misinformation impacts the entire progressive agenda, and how you can cut through the noise and stay responsibly informed.

Will the BP oil disaster lead to a new economy in the Gulf? The Institute for Southern Studies, writing from the area, explores the possibilities.

The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss writes that Israel's weakening of the Gaza blockade is an important first step, although he remains skeptical about how far it will help peace talks. Our own Phyllis Bennis agrees, applauding Turkey and civil society for providing an example to other international actors.  

Supreme Court Misfires on Second Amendment Ruling

June 28, 2010 ·

US Supreme Court buildingCongratulations, NRA voters, you may now hunt from the safety of your living room window with your handgun anywhere in America. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling today that defined the Second Amendment as the right to keep handguns in homes is a dangerous misinterpretation.

The irony of this case, McDonald vs. Chicago, is that it comes from the city with one of the highest gun crime and murder rates in the country, driven by a growing gang violence problem. Coming on the tail of a week in which nine Chicago residents were murdered and 20 injured in gang-related shootouts, broader access to handguns seems injurious, if not downright diabolical. Chicago police recovered or confiscated 7,234 guns in the first 10 months of last year when the ban was effective, a number they estimate accounts for one gun per every 14 of the estimated active gang members in the Chicago metropolitan area. After today, police no longer have the right to confiscate any of those that are legally attained handguns. As a Chicago native, I know I feel safer already.

I am not going to argue the less handguns equals less gun crime equation; Fox News has trumpeted that the numbers tell the opposite story since the repeal of the DC gun ban two years ago. It is true that DC’s crime rate dropped by 25 percent initially after handguns were legalized. But that figure has since crept back up as people have realized a proliferation of guns doesn’t mean more security.

As William Collins notes in his column “Gotta Get Me a Gun,” handguns are particularly devastating to families, where children can and do stumble upon Daddy’s “hidden” cabinet, or where caustic marital flare-ups become lethal. Someone should tell Justice Alito that with this increase in “self-defense” we’re also going to need an increase in child-safety regulations, marital protection laws, and neighborhood watch programs for the local 10 year-old trigger-happy video-gamers who now have broader handgun access.

In the meantime, Daley and the Chicago political machine have promised more laws making the purchase of guns more difficult in their jurisdiction.  Best of luck to him and the Chicago PD. It is a tough task to fight escalating violence in already crime-ridden cities when our federal government shoots our local governments in the foot.

From the Frontlines: May 10th, 2010

May 10, 2010 ·

BP oil spill. From the Seattle Times.The seven stupidest statements made about the BP oil hemorrhage.  

BP's first plan to contain the spill failed, but Alabama and Mississippi lawmakers still support offshore drilling.  

Glenn Greenwald has an impressive roundup of articles questioning Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's credentials. But another Salon author wonders if the "liberal case against" Kagan is overblown.  

In Iraq, at least 65 people were killed and 243 injured in a series of attacks. And the Taliban announced a new offensive starting today, against foreign troops, security contractors, and the Afghans that work with them.  

Community health care clinics are a main source of care for the U.S. poor. With the reform bill's passage, what is their future?  

Left-wing parties celebrate victory in Germany.  

In Greece, protesters focus their wrath on the IMF, as a "majority of Greeks not only see it as the harbinger of harsh economic reforms but the symbol of foreign occupation."

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