Thursday, February 28, 2008

Poor, downtrodden Exxon

The Washington Post reports on arguments at the Supreme Court over a $2.5 billion damage award against Exxon for the Valdez oil spill in 1989.

The most revealing part of this quote from Chief Justice John Roberts is the way it signals that he seems to think any punitive damage award is illegitimate, and that corporations have no obligation to act responsibly.

Exxon Mobil, the giant oil corporation appearing before the Supreme Court yesterday, had earned a profit of nearly $40 billion in 2006, the largest ever reported by a U.S. company -- but that's not what bothered Roberts. What bothered the chief justice was that Exxon was being ordered to pay $2.5 billion -- roughly three weeks' worth of profits -- for destroying a long swath of the Alaska coastline in the largest oil spill in American history.

"So what can a corporation do to protect itself against punitive-damages awards such as this?" Roberts asked in court.

The lawyer arguing for the Alaska fishermen affected by the spill, Jeffrey Fisher, had an idea. "Well," he said, "it can hire fit and competent people."

The rare sound of laughter rippled through the august chamber. The chief justice did not look amused.
Boy, and here I thought that judges were supposed to weigh evidence before reaching their conclusions.

Oh, that's right, I forgot. That was in old America. We're living in the re-branded version.

Same look, new rancid taste.