When a fellow former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia claims that our client, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, betrays conservative legal ideals through its unyielding opposition to abuse of class-action suits by the plaintiffs’ bar, we take it seriously. But the argument that Professor Brian Fitzpatrick raised in his November 13 National Review piece does not stand up to scrutiny.
Professor Fitzpatrick, relying principally upon the U.S. Chamber’s brief in the landmark 2011 Supreme Court case AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, attempts to ascribe to the Chamber a position he invented: Opposed to class actions in all cases, and instead pining for more federal enforcement against business. No self-respecting legal conservative, he argues, would favor law enforcement by the executive branch in lieu of private-sector lawyers, motivated by profit in the form of contingency fees (lots and lots of contingency fees).
Well, our former boss Justice Scalia did, for good conservative reasons: history, tradition, and political accountability.
As Justice Scalia wrote in Wal-Mart Inc. v. Dukes, class actions are an exception to the long-standing rule, dating to English common law and the Founding era, that litigation is conducted on behalf of the individual named parties. Today’s class-action colossus is a creation largely of the mid-1960s — hardly the heyday of conservative legal reform.