Justice Antonin Scalia took his seat on the bench in 1986, during one of the greatest bull markets and the heyday of corporate mergers and acquisitions. In the three decades he served on the high court, he helped raise barriers for employees and consumers and he helped strike down limits on corporate political spending in the U.S. democracy. He will be remembered for his intellect and personality, but he should also be remembered for increasing the power of business in society.
For example, in Walmart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, the Supreme Court denied 1.5 million women the ability to bring a class action against Walmart for unequal pay or promotions on the basis of sex. A class action would have allowed all of the women to join together in one gender discrimination lawsuit, brought by one set of lawyers who would be paid out of any recovery from the suit. These plaintiffs might not otherwise be able to surmount the logistical and economic obstacles to bring 1.5 million individual suits against one of the world’s largest companies. Without the class action, they might not even be aware of their own claims or the patterns of discrimination.
The Court split 5-4, and the majority opinion written by Scalia rejected the certification of the class of women plaintiffs, reasoning that their claims did not have enough in common. According to Scalia, there was not enough “glue” holding together the alleged reasons for the employment decisions. “Merely showing that Walmart’s policy of discretion has produced an overall sex-based disparity does not suffice.” The women could not proceed as a class when they could not show that they would receive “a common answer to the crucial question, why was I disfavored?”