Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito owns Exxon stock
According to this Wired article, Justice Alito owns between $100K and $250K of Exxon stock. Do we really want a guy who owns Exxon stock sitting on the high court? He's going to be there for at least 25 years. Is he going to recuse himself every time a case about the environment comes up?
The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear Exxon Mobil's plea to reduce the $2.5 billion fine handed out after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The company, who say they shouldn't be held responsible for the drunken driving of ship captain Joseph Hazelwood, calls the punishment unconstitutionally excessive.
Opponents -- fishermen, cannery workers, Native Alaskans, small businesses and other locals -- say that $2.5 billion, while indeed larger than any other oil spill fine, is not an excessive price for fouling 1,200 miles of pristine Alaskan coastline, especially when taken in the context of Exxon Mobil's earnings: as the world's largest private oil company, Exxon reported profits of $39.5 billion in 2006.
Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker arrives at the Supreme Court after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the damages award. As the Washington Post reports, the Court will "consider whether the Clean Water Act and maritime laws allow for punitive damages, and if so, whether the award is excessive." Exxon will argue that the $3.4 billion they've already spent on cleanup and reparations makes the fine-- whose purpose is to "punish wrongdoing and deter future misconduct" -- unnecessary.
Justice Samuel Alito, who owns between $100,000 and $250,000 of Exxon stock, has recused himself from the case, which will be heard next February or March.
I'm hardly a Constitutional or maritime law scholar, so I'll refrain from commenting on the technical definition of punitive damages and subsequent legality of the $2.5 billion fine. As to whether maritime law even allows punitive damages, however, there appears to be a significant body of precedent suggesting that Exxon Mobil had better whip out its checkbook.