Corporate Accountability

Another Solid Term for Big Business at the Roberts Court

The Roberts Court wrapped up its business docket—and its Term—on Monday with an ideologically divided, 5-to-4 ruling in Michigan v. EPA, an environmental case involving a challenge to the EPA’s efforts to address mercury emissions from power plants.  In Michigan, Justice Scalia and the Court’s other conservatives handed a key victory to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, assorted industry groups, and various states.  This Chamber win capped off a good—but not great—Term for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce overall.


Let’s begin with the numbers. The Chamber participated in nearly a third of the cases argued before the Roberts Court this Term, filing 21 amicus briefs.  All told, the Chamber once again won more cases than it lost, prevailing in 13 cases and losing in 8—for a 62% winning percentage.  That means that, since Samuel Alito succeeded Sandra Day O’Connor on the Court in January 2006, the Chamber has won 69% of its cases overall (98 out of 142), compared with only 43% in the late Burger Court (15 of 35 from 1981-1986) and 56% in the stable Rehnquist Court (45 of 80 from 1994-2005). Therefore, the Chamber’s success rate this Term was a bit lower than its historical average before the Court’s current conservative bloc, but still quite solid overall.


Looking beyond the numbers to the particulars of this Term’s business cases, the Chamber certainly won some big victories, including in Michigan (requiring the EPA to consider compliance costs before deciding whether to regulate mercury emissions from power plants), Yates v. United States (limiting alleged prosecutorial overreach under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act), and City of Los Angeles v. Patel (limiting warrantless searches of business records).  However, the Chamber lost a handful of important cases as well, especially in the area of civil rights, with the Court rejecting the Chamber’s efforts to weaken key protections under the Fair Housing Act (Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc.), the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (Young v. UPS), and Title VII (EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores).


Finally, as one leading Court watcher has already observed, the Chamber decided not to participate in two of the most important cases of the Term, those addressing the Affordable Care Act (King v. Burwell) and marriage equality (Obergefell v. Hodges).  However, in both cases, corporate America did weigh in heavily on one side of the case—with key players in the health care industry defending the ACA in King and leading voices in the business community supporting marriage equality in Obergefell.  In both cases, the business community scored major victories, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy joining the Court’s progressives to preserve the ACA in King and Justice Kennedy (again) joining the Court’s progressives to guarantee marriage equality in Obergefell.


In the end, despite some big losses (and despite its silence in King and Obergefell), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had yet another solid Term at the Supreme Court.