Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I'm going to take a break from geekery/Lily-is-cute blogging today to talk about the Supreme Court. As the kids say on the internets, INAL (I'm not a lawyer), but I am a citizen and as Al Franken said the piece to which I linked in my last post, this Court has bolstered the rights of corporations at the expense of citizens one 5-4 decision at a time.

It was some time in the early years of the decade when my Constitutional Law professor said "Not only is the Supreme Court we have now very conservative, it is probably the most conservative Supreme Court in our nation's history."

She could probably be forgiven for not foreseeing that the Supreme Court would veer even more sharply Rightward in the coming years, with the addition of Roberts and Alito to the bench. I think the greatest failure of congressional Democrats in my lifetime was their abrogation of their responsibilities in vetting candidates from the Supreme Court. (Alito: "I'm not going to answer that." Senate Democrats: "Good enough for me! Have a lifetime appointment!") Roberts and Alito are only in their 50s, they're as conservative as anyone who has ever been on the Court and they are going to be influencing policy for a long, long time.

It just handed down two of the worst decisions in the history of its existence this past week. One of them was a run-of-the-mill atrocity upholding a provision of the USA PATRIOT act that permits the criminalization of pure speech advocating lawful, nonviolent activity. That's just awesome, and about what I'd expect from the Roberts court.

But that's not likely to affect anyone you or I know. Their decision in Rent-A-Center v. Jackson will. The gist of that case is this. An African American guy named Antonio Jackson was hired by Rent-A-Center as an account manager, and his employment contract specified that any dispute between the employee and the company be settled through arbitration.

Arbitration, in this sense, if you're not familiar with the concept. says that the dispute is handled outside the court system, in what is essentially a private court of the more powerful organization's choice. Wikipedia has a decent summary of why if you as a private citizen go to arbitrage against a company, you're going to lose, no matter how badly they screwed you.

Anyways, Jackson was repeatedly passed up for promotions which went to less qualified white employees. He complained about this vocally and finally got one, two months before he was terminated without cause. He sued Rent-A-Center, alleging that he had been the victim of racial discrimination and retaliation.

Rent-A-Center filed a motion to dismiss, saying this was supposed to go to arbitration. Jackson's argument was that because of the parties’ unequal bargaining power and the fact that the agreement to arbitrate was presented to him as a non-negotiable condition of his employment, he lacked the opportunity to make a meaningful choice.

He was arguing that the agreement was an unfair, one-sided deal that the company forced on him as the price of getting a job, that the arbitration agreement was so fundamentally unfair that it should be up to a judge, not the arbitrator, to decide whether the agreement to arbitrate could be enforced. You can guess where it went from here. The conservative majority ruled 5-4 in favor of Rent-A-Center.

I actually have a dedicated blogging site (plug: but I assume you're reading this on Facebook. In order to create an account on Facebook, you had to agree to have your suit settled by arbitration. Any time you interact with any corporate entity, in any capacity you care to name, be it playing a game online (or merely going online), clicking through those little click-through agreements that nobody reads, you're agreeing to have your dispute settled by arbitration. You probably had to sign an arbitration agreement as a condition for accepting your job. I know I did. And if you're fighting a big corporation in open court, it's not like your chances are great anyway, but if they did something sufficiently illegal and embarrassing, there's a chance that they might settle to avoid the bad publicity. But as arbitrage proceedings are private, you can't even clutch at that straw.

The ruling in Citizen's United was pretty awful too. I feel like the court is laying the groundwork for the Shadowrun future.


  1. Just disgusting.

    Watch and see the future develop more into a Paranoia setting than a Shadowrun setting. Maybe a grisly amalgamation of the two.

    Also, I read this on facebook first, but I approve of independent blogs.

  2. Hurray! My first comment! Next time we meet, I'll buy you a coke.

    Also, dueling dystopian futures! "You got your Megacorporation in my Alpha Complex!" "No, you got your Alpha Complex in my megacorporation!"