Old Codgers on the Supreme Court Won’t Look Out for Their Own

In The Nation, Harper Jean Tobin discusses the “wave of federal court decisions in recent years has made it difficult and sometimes impossible for older Americans to enforce important rights, such as hard-earned pension benefits, freedom from age discrimination, access to long-term care, compensation for injuries caused by faulty medical devices and decent treatment in nursing homes.”

For example, the Supreme Court has turned the federal pension law on its head, eliminating virtually all remedies when employers deny benefits in bad faith. Since the Court has given them virtual immunity, employers are encouraged to play fast and loose with the law. Last December, the Supreme Court denied review in Eichorn v. AT&T Corp., a case in which the telecom giant engineered the sale of a subsidiary to eliminate the pension rights of more than 1,000 employees. While employees had the right under their pension plan to transfer to other divisions of AT&T and retain their benefits, AT&T effectively canceled those rights by promising its buyer not to rehire them. A federal appeals court acknowledged that the evidence showed a large-scale, intentional violation of law, but it nevertheless threw the case out, ruling that the law provided no remedies for the employees.

To make matters worse, the Supreme Court’s ruling this January in Stoneridge Investment Partners v. Scientific-Atlanta Inc. left public and private pensions more vulnerable than ever to securities fraud. When Enron tanked, pension funds lost tens of millions, yet Enron itself was judgment-proof. The Court shielded Enron’s equally culpable corporate collaborators from suit, cutting off the only realistic source of compensation.

All this, of course, is on top of the fact that most old folks have seen whatever retirement savings they might have shrink as the stock market tanks.

Considering the fact that the average age of the current Supreme Court justices is 68, you’d think they would do better. Then again, since they have jobs for life, if they want them, as well as government pensions and salaries over $200,000, geezers like Tony Scalia don’t have much to worry about.

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