Many on Left want to politicize American law and they are emboldened by the vacancy on the Supreme Court to achieve their long sought goal. But don’t take my word for it. Zephyr Teachout, a professor of law at Fordham, ex-candidate for the governorship of New York and current candidate for Congress, laments the current state of antitrust law: “If you can depoliticize antitrust law, you can depoliticize anything.”
The quote comes at the end of a long article in the New York Times in which many commentators complain about Supreme Court decisions friendly to business. The evidence that the Roberts Court has been the best court for business in decades comes from a study by Lee Epstein, Bill Landes, and Richard Posner. This study has been ably critiqued by Jonathan Adler, who notes, among other things, that the study leaves out regulatory decisions quite unfriendly to business.
But my observation here is that neither the authors of the study nor the commentators in the Times article try to show that that the decisions in favor of business were legally incorrect.
I’ve long wanted to understand and maybe write about international commercial arbitration. It’s of enormous economic importance and hugely interesting as a matter of legal theory—especially if you’re skeptical of legal positivism (as I am) and fond of contractual arrangements and competition among legal systems (ditto). The American system, post-New Deal, traps commercial actors in multiple hostile legal forums: that’s Erie Railroad, which is organized hell. The international commercial system seems to be that parties choose an impartial, exclusive forum by contract, which sounds heavenly by comparison. How exactly does that work? Unfortunately I’m no expert, and unlikely to become one.
Scarcely any legal question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, through arbitration. If Alexis de Tocqueville could survey contemporary American legal culture, he would rub his eyes with amazement at the privatization of adjudication across a wide swath of issues previously committed to judicial resolution. Cf. Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 807 (1999) (Souter, J., dissenting); Federal Maritime Comm'n v. South Carolina State Ports Auth., 535 U.S. 743, 755 (2002). From trade disputes posing serious questions of economic diplomacy to consumer contracts adhering to cell phones and credit cards, mandatory arbitration has displaced…