Last week the United States Chamber of Commerce released its annual “Lawsuit Climate Survey” – a report the Chamber has published since 2002. The Survey is worth examining because its conclusions can tell us a lot about both the Chamber as an organization and about big business’ priorities and views of our justice system.
According to the website Public Justice, the Chamber’s “report summarizes the answers of a ‘nationally representative sample of 1,203 in-house general counsel, senior litigators or attorneys, and other senior executives who are knowledgeable about litigation matters at companies with annual revenues over $100 million.’” It is, in short, a survey designed to gauge the views of big business toward our courts, and to rank those courts in terms of their favorability toward large companies and their legal agendas.
According to Public Justice, the Chamber finds that state courts are generally more favorable toward companies than federal courts, and that they have become steadily more business-friendly over the last decade, albeit at a slow pace. “In 2003, Corporate America’s lawyers gave the state courts a score of 50.7; in 2015 they gave them a score of 61.7,” the website reports. In assigning letter-grades to states based on the ‘business-friendly’ record of their courts 52% of all state courts were awarded either an ‘A’ or a ‘B’.
As someone who has been concerned with issues of court access throughout my career I found the entire concept of the Chamber’s ‘survey’ disappointing. The underlying premise of the survey is that the injuries ordinary Americans suffer because of corporate greed or negligence are little more than an annoyance, one that is best dealt with by finding the most ‘business-friendly’ court possible – one that will see things mainly from a perspective of profit and loss rather than right and wrong. That is not what America ought to be about, and it is not the role our courts play in America’s justice system.
As a Portland personal injury attorney I believe strongly that our courts are strongest – and are best for America – when they put commercial interests aside to focus on justice. Our court system at the local, state and federal level is an extraordinary asset for all of Americans. To claim, as the Chamber does, that it works best when it favors the interests of big business regardless of the merits of any particular case, is to misunderstand the role that the justice system plays both in our democracy and in guaranteeing that ordinary Americans can hold the negligent and the criminal to account.