February 12, 2021

Senators Call Out Dark-Money Influence Behind SCOTUS Labor Case

Whitehouse, Merkley, Blumenthal, Booker, and Padilla call on justices to stand with workers over anonymously funded pro-corporate groups


Washington, DC – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Alex Padilla (D-CA) filed a brief today in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, a major Supreme Court challenge to labor unions’ ability to organize agricultural workers. The senators point to the raft of anonymously funded pro-corporate groups that have helped to guide the case to the Court, and are now lobbying the justices for an outcome that would not only hinder labor organizing of agricultural workers but undermine a range of important rules and regulations protecting the public. Cases like Cedar Point fit into a troubling pattern of special interest influence over the Court and American government as a whole.

The challenge before the Court pits California fruit businesses Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Company against the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board in a challenge to unions’ access to organize workers. The companies seek to undermine a well-established California regulation that affords union organizers a limited right to access the property of agricultural employers. The regulation takes into account the challenges of reaching farmworkers to help them organize, and has played a vital role in protecting agricultural workers for four decades.

As the senators note, the case did not follow a traditional path to the Court. Rather than push to win at the trial and appellate levels, the plaintiff businesses rushed to lose the case in lower courts and thrust their challenge before the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs aim to win a sweeping constitutional ruling that would affect not only the plaintiffs’ ability to fend off labor organizing among its workers, but hobble labor and other important government protections that require granting the government limited access to certain private property.

The senators explain, “[T]he cottage industry that facilitates, orchestrates, and accelerates those desired outcomes lures the Court into trespassing upon elemental protections of the Constitution: that cases be real, not fabricated; that plaintiffs be injured, not recruited; that procedure be followed, not jumped; and that the healthy process of ‘winding’ percolation not be subverted.”

Manipulation of the litigation process to force politically charged cases before the Court has become more common as right-wing petitioners seek rulings from justices whose nominations were backed by anonymously funded “dark money” groups. Senate Democrats have chronicled the ways dark money groups control virtually every aspect of Republicans’ judicial selection and nomination process. The result has been a Supreme Court that rules reliably in dark-money donor interests’ favor.

The senators also point to the chorus of dark money groups filing amicus briefs to lobby the Court to side with the businesses. At least 11 of the amicus filers in the case are funded by industry-tied foundations and dark-money groups that argue in support of the plaintiffs.

Cedar Point follows a trend in recent years of anti-labor business groups bringing challenges on behalf of plaintiffs of convenience with the backing of armadas of dark-money amicus filers. As Senate Democrats detailed in their Captured Courts report on labor and workers’ rights, dark-money funding has poured into labor fights before the Supreme Court.

If the Court rules in the businesses’ favor, it will help to skew government in favor of the powerful corporate interests. Such rulings threaten to undermine Americans’ confidence in their government, the senators warn, and begin to split American society into two unequal groups: “One is an insider influencer class that occupies itself with rent-seeking from government, and desires rules of political engagement that make government more and more amenable to its power and influence,” the senators write. “The second class is the general population, which has an abiding institutional interest in a government with the capacity to resist that special-interest influence.”

“It is also, in our respectful view, appropriate for the Court to as-sure that no interest gains special access to the Court through anonymously funded entities designed to create a facsimile of litigation that transports favored questions for favored interests around these safe-guards and directly to the doorstep of this Court,” the senators write.

Read the senators’ full brief here.

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921