How Safe is NLRB from Agency Disempowerment

Corruption NLRB Supreme Court

            Heerlen           Late June, most schools are out, summer is here, and maybe for many there’s a minute to take a breath and smell the roses.  One rock in the road of such relief and peace of mind at this time of year, especially these days, is that the reconfigured, hyper-conservative US Supreme Court casts quite the shadow darkening the end of June, as its end of session decisions fall like hail on all of our roofs.  The flurry this time hasn’t finished, and predictably, there’s little to celebrate.  Decisions on pollution at the least set back climate protections for years as the court “paused” administrative action for lower court review.  On abortion restrictions in Idaho, allowing medical abortions, guns, and corruption, their decisions fell all over the map.  Judgements were often made on the issue of “standing” by the parties suing rather than on the real issues, thereby offering no abiding comfort.  It’s like that.

The court even danced around decisions primarily effecting rich people, with an equally mixed result.  The opioid poison pushing Sadler family behind oxytocin, that has tallied a death count equivalent and surpassing some US wars, got their wealth shield in a court settlement rejected by the court, which is good news.  There’s a caveat though since the settlement would have finally given relief to hundreds of thousands of their victims, and that is now in abeyance.  When it comes to finance, flimflam, and the well-to-do that make hay in the stock market, the court undercut the regulatory body, the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), and its internal administrative court system by ordering that someone accused of fraud in that venue should be able to get a jury trial before a federal judge.

At one level, many may wonder why we care about the SEC and Wall Streeters, isn’t it just caveat emptor and outside our lane?  Well, yes, even though there are a lot of biscuit cookers that get ripped off in these scams, so quicker justice would be good.  More worrisome is that this is part of the conservative project to defang what they see as the deep regulatory state.  The judges in the minority were the liberals and one read her opinion, which is a sign of huge disgust with the majority, arguing that there are many administrative courts, like those that regulate mining, which are also endangered by this effort of the court to seize more power for itself and take it away from agencies.

I immediately wondered about the administrative hearings and judges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that deal generally with private sector workers and their organizing rights.  A friend and colleague shared a piece by Harold Meyerson that went right to this issue on the American Prospect website.  On the SEC’s internal courts, he made the point that studies had shown that their courts have a record as good as federal courts. Importantly, the piece notes that Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, seemed to be exempting the NLRB and its internal system as not duplicative.  Meyerson wonders if Roberts was simply taking note of the current popularity of workers.  I doubt that, I think rather he and his peers really don’t want to end up having to oversee a slew of cases coming their way from rank-and-file workers, no matter their anti-union animus.  Roberts may also realize how permanently toothless the NLRB has already been rendered, and didn’t think it was worth kicking a cripple at this juncture.  Meyerson cautions that we can’t rest easy, because there are other cases by the superrich, like Musk and Bezos, coming after the NLRB that might still do the job.  Given the way the court protects the rich, we’re right to worry.

We can’t enjoy summer until this court goes on vacation.