William & Mary Business Law Review


The 2011–2012 Supreme Court Term created quite the media buzz. The Affordable Care Act cases and the controversial Arizona immigration law dominated the headlines. But the Term also included other fascinating yet less sensationalized cases. The Court heard its fair share of criminal law controversies involving derelict defense attorneys and prosecutors, as well as civil procedure disputes involving qualified immunity for witnesses in grand jury proceedings and private parties assisting the government in litigation. The Justices also entertained arguments on a federal law allowing United States citizens born in Jerusalem to have “Israel” stamped as their birthplace on a passport. The Secretary of State refused, arguing that the practice would inflame tensions in an already volatile Middle East. Another case pitted the First Amendment right to lie about receiving military honors against the Stolen Valor Act prohibiting that type of dishonest speech. A case from Montana hearkened back to 1889 and implicated the Equal Footing Doctrine—a constitutional provision granting territory to states upon entering the Union. Texas crafted new electoral maps based on the 2010 census and soon found them scrutinized under the Voting Rights Act. In all, the Term was extraordinary because most of its cases revolved around topics ripped from the headlines and touched on areas of public policy relevant to Americans in 2012 and beyond.

The Term was also compelling because of its impact on the business arena. The Justices granted certiorari in seventeen business cases, eleven of which were cherry-picked for this Article. Each case chosen covered a classic and well-established business law topic, generated strong interest within the business community, contained predominately business-focused

facts, and had a connection to a business-related constitutional provision/ amendment or statute. These cases provide the best glimpse into the Roberts Court’s most recent stance on topics important to the business community. This Article evaluates these cases in depth and proposes the following Business Impact Theory of the Term:

  1. The Court’s opinions came out strongly on the side of business with business interests receiving sixty-one out of seventy potential votes. This resulted in an eighty-seven percent success rate for business interests over the course of the Term. This high percentage is different from the previous Term at the Roberts Court where the Justices unanimously voted against business interests in a handful of cases.
  2. These pro-business decisions did not occur in ordinary, run of the mill cases. Instead, the impact of these decisions is magnified because they each involved topics critical to America’s economic recovery.
  3. Perhaps surprisingly, the Court’s liberal-leaning Justices voted with the Court’s conservatives twenty-three out of a possible thirty-one opportunities—or seventy-four percent of the time—in the significant business impact cases. They did so in disputes that presented compelling arguments from both a conservative and liberal perspective and where such facts allowed for a strong four-Justice dissent. Such a split, however, occurred only once in the cases considered in the tally.
  4. The Court was willing to both narrow and expand constitutional provisions/amendments and state/federal statutes to reach its desired result. There appeared to be no concerted effort to adhere to a minimalist or living constitutionalist philosophy—at least in these significant business impact cases.

In the end, the results in the business cases of the Term could prove to be a fluke, or they could indicate a pivot of the Court towards supporting business interests to a greater extent. Time will tell because the next first Monday of October is right around the corner.