Reuters released a special report late last year that went largely under the corporate media's radar. Titled "The Echo Chamber," it exposed that at the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), "a handful of lawyers now dominates the docket."
"The Echo Chamber" examined 10,300 petitions before the Supreme Court from 2004 through 2012, triangulating the number of appeals filed, the names of attorneys and their firms, and the percentage of appeals accepted and heard by SCOTUS.
Some high points:
1) Sixty-six of 17,000 lawyers' appeals were at least six times more likely to be heard than all other lawyers' submissions combined in that same period.
2) These 66 lawyers account for less than 1 percent of lawyers who filed appeals with SCOTUS yet were involved in 43 percent of the cases chosen to be heard.
3) Fifty-one of these 66 lawyers represent corporate interests, turning SCOTUS "into an echo chamber - a place where an elite group of jurists embraces an elite group of lawyers who reinforce narrow views of how the law should be construed."
4) Twelve top firms had an 18-percent success rate in getting their petitions heard and were involved in a third of the cases before SCOTUS. Of the business-related cases accepted by SCOTUS, these top firms were involved in 60 percent.
5) Out of 8,000 firms doing business at the Supreme Court, 31 firms accounted for 44 percent of all cases heard by SCOTUS.
6) A group of eight lawyers accounted for 20 percent of all arguments made before SCOTUS in the past decade versus 30 attorneys in the decade before, demonstrating the diminishing circle of influence at the high court.
7) Demographically, of the 66 top lawyers, 63 are Caucasian and only eight are female. Thirty-one worked as clerks for SCOTUS; 25 worked in high-level positions for the U.S. Office of the Solicitor General, whose attorneys represent the government before SCOTUS; and 14 worked for both, making them "consummate insiders."
To put this last factoid into perspective, consider that SCOTUS clerks provide the initial screening of incoming petitions, called a "cert pool." Eight justices participate in this screening pool; Justice Samuel Alito does not, having his own clerks review each petition. Examination of the 10,300 petitions reveals the top lawyers' names often highlighted on the cover page. As Reuters' study notes: "The justices have essentially added a new criterion to whether the court takes an appeal - one that goes beyond the merits of a case and extends to the merits of the lawyer who is bringing it."
The underlying consequences of such a narrow participation of lawyers who largely represent corporate interests is the disproportionate representation of the people in obtaining justice. Corporate lawyers are not going to accept cases that potentially negatively impact their lucrative, paying clients. In other words, justice is for sale to the highest bidder.
These same lawyers have highly specialized experience in navigating the government agencies they used to advocate and now oppose. It is the quintessential revolving door so pervasive between government and the largest private-sector corporations, with benefits that keep producing at the expense of individual Americans.
The justices recognize this elite legal representation and, according to Reuters, make no apologies for it: "Even the most liberal justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, accepts the corporate tilt of the specialist bar that dominates the docket. 'Business can pay for the best counsel money can buy. The average citizen cannot,' Ginsberg said. 'That's just a reality.'"
"The Echo Chamber" is a must-read for Americans because it is time to recognize and accept that the nation's justice system is not working for far too many. We can't fix what we don't know.