Court pick big deal to business, labor

Seat: Corporations and unions aim to influence the White House's choice of the next Supreme Court justice.

July 02, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court's rulings on abortion and religion capture the headlines, but much of the business before the high court deals with the conduct of business.

In the court's term that ended this week, for instance, about 30 percent of the rulings involved business issues. So corporate America and organized labor are gearing up to influence the debate over President Bush's nominee to fill the high court vacancy to be left by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business organization, has quietly provided information to the White House about the pro-business voting records of judges over the past year. The group began its assessment when Chief Justice William Rehnquist announced in October that he had thyroid cancer. "I think it's fair to say that once the chief's health issues came up, we probably engaged in that with a bit more intensity than we had in the past," said Stan Anderson, the executive vice president and chief legal officer for the Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber's litmus test: Does a judge support limits on corporate liability? "What we fundamentally look at is whether they are a liability expander or a liability contractor," Anderson said.

Organized labor seeks the opposite. "The high court decides cases involving workplace rights and protections, such as the right to a safe workplace, to minimum wages and overtime pay, to a workplace free of discrimination and the right to join with others to form a union," said John Sweeney, the president of the AFL-CIO. "So it is more important than ever for the president to nominate a mainstream candidate, whose opinions will have a tremendous impact on the constitutional rights and legal protections of our children and grandchildren."

The National Association of Manufacturers is creating a judicial-review committee to pore over nominees' previous rulings. The association has ranked the votes of congressmen but will wade into Supreme Court politics for the first time.

"The mantra for us has been: We want a judge who interprets the law, who doesn't make it, a judge who says this is what the contract provided for, not what it should have provided," said Pat Cleary, a spokesman.

Business issues before the court aren't sexy, but they're vital to the lives of Americans, said Donald Falk, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based lawyer who argues before the high court for Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw. "What really affects people's lives - their economic lives - are things like the regulatory scope of the state, the ability of the federal government to intrude into other areas of life and how far states can go within constitutional constraints," Falk said.

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