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Consumer Protection's Citizens United

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Donnachaidh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Nov-09-10 09:36 AM
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Consumer Protection's Citizens United

In a high stakes Supreme Court case over your right to sue for corporate wrongdoing, guess which side Comcast and the Chamber of Commerce are on?

It could turn out to be a banner month for the Chamber of Commerce. Last week, one of the powerful pro-business lobby's biggest congressional foes, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), was defeated, in no small part due to its efforts. And on Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear a case that could solidify the success of one of the Chamber's longtime goals, an agenda Feingold has vigorously fought back against: limiting the ability of consumers to sue businesses for fraud and other wrongdoing.

AT&T v. Concepcion has been called the consumer protection equivalent of Citizens United. At stake is the ability of consumers to stop corporate ripoffs via class action lawsuits, which allow lots of people with small claims to band together and bring a suit large enough to make it worth a lawyer's time. The case could affect everything from the rights of workers to fight systemic discrimination or wage violations to the ability of cell phone customers to fight the small but lucrative rip-offs that are so common among wireless providers. As a sign of how big a case this is for corporate America, the wireless lobby has hired former Solicitor General Paul Clement, a rock star of the Supreme Court bar, to represent it on an amicus brief in the case. The parties backing AT&T include the Chamber, Comcast, Dell, and DirectTV.

"In Concepcion, AT&T and the Chamber of Commerce are asking the Supreme Court to do the same thing for consumer protection that Citizens United did for election law," says Paul Bland, a lawyer with the public interest law firm Public Justice who has spent many years battling unfair arbitration clauses on behalf of small consumers. "In Concepcion, the Chamber wants the Court to overturn a number of precedents and eliminate the most important safeguards that have limited corporate abuse in the past."

The Chamber has been systematically fighting to limit consumers' access to the courts for years, particularly through class actions. In 2005, it finally succeeded in winning legislation that made it much harder to bring such cases in state courts, after investing more than $20 million in lobbying Congress. But it didn't stop there. It has defended the right of big companies to use contracts to wipe out whatever legal rights for consumers remained. And that's where Tuesday's Supreme Court argument comes in.

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