Tuesday, October 30, 2007

That sinking feeling

-- by Dave

Somehow, considering that Exxon has managed to avoid paying damages still, 18 years after the Exxon Valdez disaster -- and despite the lingering damage -- you just knew this was going to happen:
Top Court to Hear Exxon Valdez Case

By MARK SHERMAN – 15 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether Exxon Mobil Corp. should pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages to victims of the huge Exxon Valdez oil spill that fouled more than 1,200 miles of Alaskan coastline in 1989.

The high court stepped into the long-running battle over the damages that Exxon Mobil owes from the supertanker accident in Prince William Sound that was the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The Exxon Valdez ran aground on a reef, cracking its hull and spilling 11 million gallons of oil.

Hundreds of thousands of seabirds and marine animals died as a result.

It is a case filled with superlatives. The award, even after it was cut in half by a federal appeals court in December, would be the largest punitive damages judgment ever. A jury in Alaska awarded $5 billion in damages in 1994 and the company has been appealing the verdict ever since.

Exxon Mobil, based in Irving, Texas, is the world's largest publicly traded oil company and last year posted the largest annual profit by a U.S. company — $39.5 billion. That result topped the previous record, also by Exxon Mobil, of $36.13 billion set in 2005.

Arguing against Supreme Court review, lawyers for the plaintiffs, some of whom have died, said the damages award is "barely more than three weeks of Exxon's net profits."

The plaintiffs still living include about 33,000 commercial fishermen, cannery workers, landowners, Native Alaskans, local governments and businesses. They urged the court to reject the company's appeal, saying, "After more than 18 years, it is time for this protracted litigation to end."

Gee, wonder how they're going to rule on this one:
Exxon said that even if the court finds some money is due, it should rule that the $2.5 billion award violates the Constitution because it is too large. The justices said they would not consider that argument when they hear the case early next year.

Justice Samuel Alito, who owns between $100,000 and $250,000 in Exxon stock, did not take part in the decision to accept the appeal.

Here's the full story behind the original $5 billion ruling.

This is a court that's already overturned an $80 million judgment against Phillip Morris. Indeed, the court in its current composition is weighted heavily toward corporate interests. It's largely a Bush court, after all.

This is one of the things that most angers me about conservative rule. In a healthy system, this case would be decided purely on the merits of the law. That's how most of us expect our court system to work.

But under conservative rule, with the courts now dominated by the Federalist Society, the whole system has become rigged. We know the outcomes even before they're officially issued. It's impossible to have any reasonable faith in the integrity of the Bush courts.

Just another reason to boot them out next year. Who knows, Alaskans might even vote Democratic.

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