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Texas Watch on the Supreme Court

Texas Watch:

The Texas Supreme Court has a long history of favoring corporate defendants over families and small businesses, according to a decade-long review of the Court’s decision making by Court Watch, a project of the non-profit Texas Watch Foundation.

Court Watch reviewed the 624 cases involving consumers decided by the Court between 2000 and 2010. The report, “Thumbs on the Scale: A Retrospective of the Texas Supreme Court, 2000-2010”, finds that the state’s high court for civil matters “has marched in lock-step to consistently and overwhelmingly reward corporate defendants and the government at the expense of Texas families.”

“The Texas Supreme Court is an activist, results-oriented body that over the last 10 years has developed into a safe haven for corporate defendants at the expense of individuals, families, and small business owners,” said Alex Winslow, director of Court Watch. “The statistics speak for themselves. The court’s pro-defendant ideology cannot be disputed.”

Among the report’s findings are:

  • Corporate and government defendants prevail in an average of 74% of cases annually.
  • Consumers have lost 79% of cases in which they were pitted against a corporate or government defendant.

These findings lead Court Watch to conclude: “The Texas Supreme Court has become a reliable friend to those who seek to escape the consequences of their actions; its justices are the ultimate guardians for the moneyed and powerful who wish to shirk responsibility.”

The report is here. The Trib spoke to a couple of people who did dispute Winslow’s assertions about the Court.

Bill Peacock, vice president of research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said he doesn’t think the large percentage of defendant wins means that the Supreme Court favors corporations. He attributed the numbers to the court interpreting laws that the Legislature has passed to limit frivolous lawsuits, which are often brought by consumers against businesses.

“The fact that more corporations are winning before the Supreme Court shows that the Supreme Court is doing its job,” Peacock said.

[…]

Former Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister also said evaluating the Supreme Court isn’t as simple as compiling statistics. The justices, he said, only consider cases in which they might reverse the lower court’s decision.

“They only look at 10 percent of the cases. They’re not going to take a case that looks right, and the consumer won,” Brister said.

Brister denied Texas Watch’s assertion that the court favors corporations.

“We don’t look at a case and say, ‘Where can we help a company?’” he said. “We say, ‘Where does something look wrong?’”

I do think there’s something to what Peacock and Brister say. I mean, the laws the Supreme Court is asked to interpret are themselves generally anti-consumer and pro-corporate. So is the Legislature that writes those laws. For sure, the Supreme Court is part of the problem, but they’re not the extent of the problem. The remedy for each is the same, and that’s to elect people with a broader diversity of background, experience, and perspective to both the Lege and the Court. Which will be a little more difficult this year, as there are no Democrats running for the Supreme Court, but one must take the long view. Until we elect more people who share the experiences of the people that are getting shafted and want to represent them, very little will change. Trail Blazers has more.

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