Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Two-Tier Legal System

“The Appeal,” by John Grisham, 2008

Given the right-wing decisions issued last week by the highly political U.S. “Supreme” Court, this book is germane and prescient.  The Supreme’s embraced Trump’s ban on immigration and visits from mostly Muslim countries and slammed the labor movement by allowing public workers to opt out of paying dues even if they benefit from labor contracts.  (Janus v. AFSCME)  NPR ran an interview with Janus, who works in Illinois, and mostly buried the rest of the story.  Then the ‘culture war’ liberal and corporate conservative Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement prior to the 2018 elections, thus giving Trump a slam-dunk at another criminally right-wing ‘jurist.’  After all, Kennedy voted for “Citizens United” where corporations are now treated like people and money becomes ‘free speech.’  He voted for gutting the Voting Rights Act, gerrymandering, for Janus, for the travel ban, for purging voter rolls - and that is just in the last few weeks.  Not to mention his 'Bush v. Gore' vote that handed the 2000 election to Bush.  He's no 'centrist' as claimed by our corporate press.


This book is one of Grisham's best, as it shows the combination of corporate politics and corporate law.  It concerns a chemical corporation buying a seat on the Mississippi Supreme Court in order to get a large compensatory and punitive judgment against them reversed.  As we know, stacking the courts with ultra-conservative ‘judges’ has been normal practice by the Republican Party vetted by the Federalist Society.  It is called ‘tort reform,’ which is a euphemism for corporations legally doing whatever they want.  This book shows how it is done.  Anyone who thinks the ‘law’ is objective and neutral has not been living in the real world.  In a capitalist society, the laws and the courts enforce private property and, while varying their interpretations, defend an archaic Constitution over 200 years old.  The U.S. Supreme Court, where members are inducted for life or until they retire, is a perfect example of this.  It is the most reactionary institution in the government.

The corporation in the book, Krane Chemical, is accused and convicted by a jury of poisoning the water of a small Mississippi town, Bowmore, through years of dumping toxic chemicals into ravines behind their plant.  This results in a ‘cancer cluster’ 12 times the national average, resulting in many deaths and sicknesses, giving the name “Cancer County” to the locale.  Not to be confused with the real ‘Cancer Alley” across the river in Louisiana, also related to the chemical and oil complexes in that region.  The jury issues a huge punitive and compensatory award of $41M.  

The objective of the Wall Street firm behind Krane Chemical is to get the decision reversed on appeal, jury be damned.  To do that they need to find a young, naïve white lawyer who believes in church and hunting and is against gay marriage and is ‘tough on crime’ ... and run him for Mississippi Supreme Court judge.  Almost nothing to do with actual supreme court decisions, but Krane hopes to introduce a political litmus test into electing judges.  If they are successful they will be able to kick out a centrist female Supreme Court judge who might uphold the jury verdict in a 5-4 decision against them.  Sounds like the U.S. Supreme Court, aye?  Controlling every state’s Supreme Court means that any unpleasant awards on the district level can be reversed, and firms don’t even have to settle.  As shown here, they have the money and the time to appeal.

Points to note:  Money is the crucible under which these legal issues are decided.  The defendants push the small-town opposing lawyers into bankruptcy. They funnel millions of dollars in secret and openly into the campaign of their patsy, Ron Fisk.  The holding company of Krane Chemical manipulates its stock price so as to enrich the largest shareholder.  High-end lawyers, consultants, managers and techies are hired to blanket southern Mississippi with fliers, TV ads, e-mails and lies.  They push culture war ‘ho-ha’ about gun rights, gay marriage, crime and religion, which are merely window-dressing to limit or eliminate liability for corporations in the state.  Sorta of a ‘What’s The Matter With Kansas,” the realistic fictional version.   Christian fundamentalist ministers, white and black, provide troops and money for the corporations.  Decoy candidates are paid to run and then drop out.  Fake false-flag attempts at gay marriage in deeply conservative Mississippi are instituted.  Lies are broadcast.  Omissions are made.  Fraud in black neighborhoods is set up. Senators are bought on retainer.  I.E. normal capitalist ‘democratic’ methods.

If you look at what is happening to societies with formal 'democratic' voting procedures, they can manipulate bourgeois laws to the point where they can create a permanent authoritarian government.  See Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Russia as examples - now the U.S.  No need to resort to outright fascism ... you use your police and soldiers to maintain order.  The hysteria by Clintonite and Obama liberals about Trump's 'fascism' hides the fact that authoritarianism is built into capitalist legal and governmental structures.   Their middle-class analysis is ahistorical, clueless about class struggle and the material roots of fascism.  Will the capitalists ultimately need actual fascism if a real mass working class resistance occurs in the U.S.?  History will decide that, but the logic is yes.

Grisham’s heroes fighting this setup are the usual small-town lawyers fighting for the ‘little guy.’  Their back-up are the somewhat deep pockets of the trial lawyer associations.   Yet after finishing the book, you will understand that even these legal heroes are insufficient to fight the rising and open dictatorship of capital.  In a way, Grisham undermines his own liberal politics by showing how this whole charade functions. Clearly, more than lawsuits and heroic lawyers are needed.  If you don’t think so, you are lying to yourself.

Other reviews of books on capitalist law or by Grisham:  “With Liberty & Justice for Some,” “Legal Logic,” “The Divide,” “Gray Mountain,” “Eric Holder,” “99 Homes,” “Sycamore Row,” "Dispatch from the American South" and “A Time to Kill.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought at Chapman Streets Books, Ely MN

Red Frog

July 1, 2018

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