Monday, July 2, 2012

Are Crimes Against Humanity Legal? For Corporations, They Soon Might Be

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Today, the Supreme Court made it clear that they are perhaps the most pro-Corporate Court in the history of the United States in it's ruling in American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock,which affirmed Citizens United. This case was decided relatively quickly, without traditional formalities. As the SCOTUS blog conceded,

Ordinarily, the Supreme Court does not decide a case until after it has accepted it for full-scale review, receives written legal arguments, and then holds a public hearing. Now and then, and perhaps as many as nine or ten times each Term, the Court disposes of a case without those formalities: it decides the case very soon after getting the case, usually indicating that the outcome was so predictable that there was no need to engage in full-dress proceedings. That speeded-up procedure is what the Court did on Monday in this case, by a 5-4 vote. The result was to overturn a Montana Supreme Court decision upholding a 1912 voter-approved ban on corporations’ spending of their own money on political campaigns in that state. The Court majority found that state court ruling obviously in conflict with a decision the Supreme Court had issued in January 2010 striking down a similar ban in federal law against corporate spending on politics. The four Justices in dissent conceded that the Supreme Court majority was not ready to take a new look at that 2010 decision, even in a case in which a state’s highest court had found that the state had a history of corrupt corporate influence in its political life.

Though this decision once again sounds the death knell for American democracy by allowing corporations to spend an unlimited amount of money in elections to influence voters, I fear an upcoming case will have even worse consequences. Welcome to Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum.

Basically, in Kiobel, the Supreme Court will soon decide whether international law, and thus the Alien Tort Statute, applies to corporations. Perhaps that doesn't sound like much, but let's just rephrase it into slightly more real world terms. More or less, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Royal Dutch Petroleum, corporations will, under international law, be "immune from tort liability for violations of the law of nations such as torture, extrajudicial executions or genocide."

Torture, extrajudicial executions or genocide. That's some pretty rough stuff. And, within the next year, those things may be perfectly legal for corporations to carry out.

Normally, I wouldn't be too concerned. It just is common sense that corporations should be held liable for crimes against humanity. However, the Supreme Court has proven itself time and time again to be one of the most Corporation-friendly institutions in the world. And, astoundingly, lower courts have ruled that, indeed, Corporations are free to torture as much as they desire. In its opinion, The 2nd District Court of Appeals bluntly ruled

We must conclude, therefore, that insofar as plaintiffs bring claims under the [Alien Tort Statute] against corporations, plaintiffs fail to allege violations of the law of nations.

So, if the Supreme Court affirms the 2nd District Court of Appeals' decision, it will be impossible for corporations to violate the "law of nations," because there will be no law of nations for corporations that applies to corporations. That's just disgusting. Heck, that's beyond disgusting.

As the one dissenting judge on the 2nd District Court of Appeals noted,

The majority opinion deals a substantial blow to international law and its undertaking to protect fundamental human rights. According to the rule my colleagues have created, one who earns profits by commercial exploitation of abuse of fundamental human rights can successfully shield those profits from victims' claims for compensation simply by taking the precaution of conducting the heinous operation in the corporate form. Without any support in either the precedents or the scholarship of international law, the majority take the position that corporations, and other juridical entities, are not subject to international law, and for that reason such violators of fundamental human rights are free to retain any profits so earned without liability to their victims.

The possibility that corporations will soon be able to commit heinous crimes against humanity is simply sickening. I fear the day when the Supreme Court cedes so much power to corporations that they will be able to do whatever they want in the name of profit and power.

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