Alabama voters have consistently favored Republican candidates for the state's appellate courts over the past 10-12 years. Many voters probably pulled the lever for the GOP without thinking much about how an overwhelmingly conservative court might someday affect their lives.
Well, as they say out in the country, the chickens have come to roost. And thanks to the corporate yes men on the Alabama Supreme Court, our state is now $3.6 billion poorer.
The episode also provides us with another chapter in the questionable ethics of Governor Bob Riley.
In wiping out punitive damages in a case involving ExxonMobil last week, the Alabama Supreme Court send a loud and clear message to other corporations: You can come to Alabama and foul our environment, steal from our treasury, and generally cheat us blind, and we will protect you.
The 8-1 decision, with the court's lone Democrat casting the only dissent, should not be a surprise, says Scott Horton, of Harper's. "The eight Republican judges on Alabama's high court who backed ExxonMobil were put in office with the money of the business community and the money of the oil and gas community," Horton says. "No matter what the eight judges say and do, they have left themselves open to the charge that they hold the interests of their corporate donors very dear, but not the interests of the people of Alabama. And it's unlikely that their electors intended that result."
My take? Alabama voters should have known this was coming. As John McCain says, elections have consequences. And Alabama voters are feeling the consequences of their own shortsightedness now.
It's been clear for more than 100 years that Republicans always favor corporate interests over working-class, regular folks. And the ExxonMobil case is just one of several involving oil-and-gas companies where Alabama is likely to get shafted by our business-friendly courts.
What about the future? I seriously doubt if the Alabama Democratic Party will effectively use this ruling as a tool with which to batter Republicans. And even if the party does try to spread the message, I doubt that many Alabama voters will change. Huge numbers of white voters in this state vote GOP because of perceptions about race, and I doubt that's going to change just because the state got screwed out of $3.6 billion.
As for Riley, Horton reports that his sources say the governor pushed the lead law firm representing the state to add another firm to the case. Sources say this second firm has close associations with the governor's son, Rob Riley. The governor evidently said that he would choose other counsel altogether if the first firm did not cut the second firm in on the action.
This of course would be a major violation of ethics law, but who is going to investigate it in Alabama? The Birmingham News?