The stage was set in the first case the justices heard, on whether businesses can require employees to go to arbitration over job complaints. Even though employees often are forced to agree to arbitration clauses—one company sent its employees an email announcing that anyone who did not quit would be “deemed to have accepted”—the Court ruled for the companies. By making it harder for employees to join together in collective or class actions to recover for things like unpaid wages, the ruling was a windfall for business likely worth billions.
The streak continued through the term, on issues ranging from price fixing to overtime for workers. One measure of the term’s business-friendly tilt is the eye-popping success rate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the self-proclaimed “Voice of Business.” The Chamber filed briefs in 10 cases this term and won nine of them. The Chamber’s victories limited protections for whistleblowers, forced changes in the Securities and Exchange Commission, made water pollution suits more difficult to bring, and erected additional obstacles to class action suits against businesses.
Only the geekiest of Supreme Court watchers monitor such cases. But the Chamber pays attention, and it pays off.
Corporate interests even won big in a number of cases that don’t appear at first to implicate business. A case striking down a federal ban on sports gambling was ostensibly about states’ rights and the powers of Congress, but the beneficiaries will include companies hitting the jackpot in the newly unfettered industry. A case requiring the government to obtain a warrant before tracking cell phones looks like a big win for personal privacy—but it will also bolster the arguments of tech companies looking to insulate themselves from government oversight. That’s why Apple, Facebook, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, and Verizon all filed a brief in the case arguing that a customer’s disclosure of data to tech companies should not be considered a waiver of privacy interests vis-a-vis the government.
The Court’s ruling last week that crisis-pregnancy centers can’t be compelled to post notices about the availability of abortion gives businesses a powerful new weapon in their fight against mandatory disclosure requirements in the workplace and on product labels. Now, state-compelled disclosures about “controversial” topics will be deemed inherently suspect—a new doctrine that greatly expands the First Amendment rights of corporations.
Indeed, corporations were among the primary beneficiaries of several of this term’s major First Amendment decisions. Although commentators called the justices’ decision in favor of the religiously-motivated baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple “narrow,” the ruling was nevertheless a big win for corporations. Although the baker was the one with the religious views, the justices allowed his company, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., to claim the same First Amendment protections. Don’t be surprised when businesses cite this decision in the future when they refuse to provide a wedding venue to same-sex couples or fill contraceptive prescriptions.