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Court belittles Wal-Mart sex bias
by Jake Highton
Apr 10, 2011 | 533 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
What the Supreme Court badly needs is two more women. A majority of five women would give the court the empathy it woefully lacks.

The court is now ruled by five archconservatives, four of them white and fossilized. The fifth reactionary is black but even “whiter” and crustier than the other four.

Supreme Court oral argument recently on the sex discrimination suit against Wal-Mart proves the point.

• Wal-Mart has greatly underpaid women in the same jobs and with the same titles as men.

• Wal-Mart has a terrible record of promoting men rather than women even though the women are often far more qualifed.

Yes, sadly, it is still a man’s world.

The sex-bias case arose in 1999 when Stephanie Odle was fired because she complained about sex discrimination.

And, boy, did she have a doozy of a complaint. As an assistant manager of a Wal-Mart store she discovered that a man with the same title and far less experience was making $10,000 a year more than she was.

The three women on the court — Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kazan — during oral argument honed in on gender bias in the work place.

“It isn’t at all complicated,” Ginsburg said. “A decision maker … would prefer someone who looked like him.”

Kagan observed that Wal-Mart’s practice may violate civil rights laws.

But two of the “old men,” Justices Scalia and Kennedy, made it clear that a court majority would reject the class-action suit as far too broad, involving 1.5 million past and present women employees.

Moreover, Kennedy asked: “What’s the unlawful policy that Wal-Mart has adopted?” After all, he insisted, the company has a written policy calling for equal treatment without regard to sex.

Surely a Supreme Court justice should know the difference between calling for something and doing something.

A lawyer for the women rightly argued that the corporate culture is all-pervasive, teaching the mostly male supervisors that women are less aggressive than men and therefore less suited to being managers.

Another fact is plain: when the suit was filed against the nation’s largest retailer, two-thirds of its employees were women but 86 percent of the store managers were men.

A federal trial court judge rightly ruled for the women. So did the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals, the best court in America. But Supreme Court reactionaries decide the law of the land. Their rulings are seldom good.

Predictions are risky in the newspaper business. Nevertheless, it is apparent from questioning by the justices that Wal-Mart women will lose.

The slogan carved on the façade of the Supreme Court building, “Equal Justice Under Law,” is false. Women do not get equal justice.

Thomas denies justice
“The just cause lost.”

— Cardinal Newman of England (“Apologia pro Vita Sua”) in a letter to a friend in 1843.

Justice Thomas has long been a disgrace to the Supreme Court. But he outdid himself in outrageousness in a decision he recently authored for the retrograde camp.

The case, Connick v. Thompson, dealt with the wrongful conviction of John Thompson because New Orleans prosecutors withheld evidence that would have cleared him of a murder charge.

He spent 18 years in prison, 14 on Death Row. He was exonerated when a prosecutor confessed. A trial court found for Thompson, awarding him $14 million in damages for wrongful imprisonment.

But predictably the Robert Court overturned the judgment, 5-4. Thomas wrote that the prosecutor’s office could not be held liable for a single incident of wrong-doing.

Spoken like a right-wing idealogue for a supposedly nonpolitical body.

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate magazine called it “one of the meanest Supreme Court decisions ever.”

It was. Thomas is the so-called justice who wrote that a prisoner had no constitutional claim even though he was slammed to a concrete floor, punched and kicked by a guard after he asked for a grievance form.

Justice Scalia wrote a concurring opinion in that barbarous decision. Scalia is the so-called justice who wrote in 2009 that the Constitution does not forbid “the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

Conservatives often say the Supreme Court is on the side of criminals. No, they are usually on side of due process: fairness, decent treatment and opposition to tyrannical use of power.

Thomas and Scalia oppose the very spirit of due process. Montesquieu expressed that humanist point of view in “The Spirit of Laws,” declaring justice to be the supreme virtue of government.

Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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