by Ned Ryun
After its endorsements of Democrats in swing congressional seats last fall, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is back at it again with a coordinated campaign to influence the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of one of its biggest sugar daddy corporations, Johnson & Johnson.
Apparently, J&J is on the hook for $2 billion in damages handed down by a Missouri court to women who contracted ovarian cancer from asbestos in the company’s talcum powder. Not deterred by a unanimous appeals court verdict and the Missouri Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case, J&J is attempting a Hail Mary pass by appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Chamber, which has completely lost its moorings on almost every front, including its indifference to the systematic genocide of the Uighur Muslims by the Communist Chinese government, is seemingly OK with American women dying painful deaths caused by a member company’s pursuit of profits.
Asbestos causes cancer, including ovarian cancer. The record is clear that J&J’s talcum powder had asbestos in it. The trial jury was presented with mountains of evidence that J&J was aware their talc mines had asbestos veins and that there was no way to keep the asbestos out of the powder. The jury heard further evidence that since the 1960s and continuing through the early 2000s, J&J went to great lengths to obfuscate and hide the fact that its asbestos-laced powder products were dangerous and could cause cancer in women—including ghostwriting clinical studies and misleading the FDA for the simple purpose of making huge profits.
The jury was also made aware of the fact that J&J could have switched from talc to cornstarch but decided not to because cornstarch was too expensive and they had too much money invested in their asbestos-contaminated talc mines. Of course, it is also a fact that J&J pulled its talcum powder products from the United States and Canadian markets under pressure (yet outrageously they continue to sell this toxic mixture in places like India, Mexico, and other countries that have weak product liability regulations and even weaker tort laws).
As conservatives, we love the ability of companies to get big, hire lots of Americans, make big profits that benefit shareholders, and keep our free-market economy roaring. But we also hold to the principle that no company should be so big or so profitable that it can cause great harm to health, life, or the markets and be able to write off any penalty (assuming they get caught) as the cost of doing business. The penalties should be commensurate with the harm. In short, we like the entrepreneurial free-market system but we are not corporatists.
When it comes to the Supreme Court appeal, J&J is not even arguing the fact that its talc contained asbestos or that it causes cancer. Rather, the company contends the court should reverse the Missouri appeals court’s decision on the question of “joinder”—whether it’s constitutional for a court to conduct a trial in which the plaintiffs are similarly situated but the facts of each individual plaintiff are not identical. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce bootlickers rallied enough corporatist money to hurl 14 amicus briefs at the justices.
Our founders in their brilliance designed a system of governance that discourages the federal government from interfering in state matters. In this case, a diverse jury of Missourians went through a six-week-long trial, and after hearing testimony from both sides’ expert witnesses, and analyzing a ton of evidence, arrived at a unanimous verdict for the plaintiffs.
A Missouri state appeals court, one of the most conservative-leaning state appellate courts in America, also reached a unanimous verdict with one of the most conservative judges in the state who had overturned the previous three punitive damage cases—clearly no friend to trial lawyers—joining in a scathing opinion in which the court found J&J’s actions to be “reprehensible.” The appeals court, however, did reduce the damages by half, ruling that some of the plaintiffs did not have strong enough jurisdictional ties to Missouri. Finally, the Missouri Supreme Court, another very conservative court, declined to review the appeals court ruling.
The Missouri state court process worked and there is no federal interest in this case. The Supreme Court, which has declined to hear 40 or so consecutive punitive damage appeals, has no business hearing this one, either. And if you need any more proof of who is on the side of the angels in this one, and who is on the side of the corporatist racket, look no further than who is representing each side. Two of the brightest lights of conservative legal thought, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and former federal Judge Kenneth Starr are counsel to the women who sued J&J. On the other side, representing big money, is Obama lawyer Neal Katyal.
Which brings me back to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They have become the chief apologist for America’s biggest corporations continuing to do business with the genocidal Communist Chinese thugocracy. Their executives have grown wealthy on the enormous dues paid by American corporations seeking cover for profiteering at the expense of innocent people whose very lives are being destroyed by America’s chief global adversary. And now they are even shilling for a company that was willing to risk the lives of American women so they could maximize their profits on a product they knew had cancer-causing asbestos since the 1950s.
If the Supremes accept J&J’s appeal, they truly will have earned the derisive moniker whispered throughout Washington, “The Chamber of Commerce Court.”
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Ned Ryun is a former presidential writer for George W. Bush and the founder and CEO of American Majority. You can find him on Twitter @nedryun.
Photo “U.S. Chamber of Commerce Building” by AgnosticPreachersKid. CC BY-SA 3.0.