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AT&T pushes Supreme Court to demolish right to join class action lawsuits

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A case that has quietly made its way up to the Supreme Court’s docket threatens to unhinge one of America’s key consumer protections: the class action lawsuit.

Telecommunications provider AT&T is pursuing an argument in front of the nation’s highest court that would permit companies which require service or employment contracts to explicitly forbid signatories from joining class action lawsuits.

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If they succeed, any company which requires contracts could implement the prohibition on lawsuits, effectively shielding the grandest abuses of corporate America from judicial reprisal if customers or workers were to band together. Instead, AT&T seeks to force signatories into an arbitration process through a preselected, privately owned firm.

In the world of binding mandatory arbitration (BMA), firms almost always find for their employers.

A 2007 report [PDF link] by consumer advocacy group Public Citizen looked at 34,000 arbitration cases in the state of California over an eight-month period and found that the largest BMA company retained by the credit card industry decided in favor of corporate interests 94 percent of the time. Out the 34,000 arbitration proceedings, corporate clients initiated all but 118 of the cases.

“Binding mandatory arbitration is a systematic, privately funded denial of justice for consumers,” Public Citizen’s Laura MacCleery said in a media advisory. “It is a get-out-of-jail-free card for corporate hucksters.”

And it’s not just consumers who could be dramatically affected if AT&T is successful: it’s workers too. Employment agreements and union contracts could also take to banning class action litigation by forcing individuals into a BMA agreement.

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Currently, bans on class action lawsuits are illegal under most state contract laws, but there are many circumstances where BMA agreements are permitted. Attorneys for AT&T argue that their contracts should trump state laws under the Federal Arbitration Act of 1927, which holds that prohibiting litigation in a contract is acceptable so long as the arbitration process is as fair as a courtroom.

While there is hope that the court will decide against AT&T — it shut out a similar claim by rival telecom provider T-Mobile in 2008 — the Roberts court, largely seen as sympathetic to big business, may yet side with the telecom.

The suit comes out of California, where Vincent and Liza Concepcion sued AT&T in 2006 after discovering a series of fees attached to a pair of allegedly free mobile phones. Other citizens across the state joined their class action, eventually convincing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that AT&T should be sanctioned. AT&T asked the nation’s highest court for a review earlier this year.

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The case is AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, set to be taken up by the Supreme Court next week. Public Citizen has an extensive archive of material related to the case.

Class action lawsuits in recent years have prevented phone companies from secretly extending contracts every time a customer makes small changes to their monthly service; stopped hidden monthly charges by mobile content providers who falsely advertised their services; and forced Internet search provider Google to take additional steps to protect users’ privacy.

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MSNBC’s Maya Wiley reveals she is exploring a bid to run for mayor of New York City

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Civil rights activist and prominent MSNBC analyst Maya Wiley revealed on MSNBC on Thursday that she is considering a campaign for mayor of New York City.

Wiley also serves as the senior vice president for social justice at The New School and the Henry Cohen Professor of Urban Policy and Management at the Milano School of Policy, Management, and Environment.

"There have been reports in multiple outlets about some people discussing whether or not you might run for mayor of new york," MSNBC chief legal analyst Ari Melber noted. "Not as friend of Maya, but as a journalist, do you have any comment on that? Are you considering running for mayor?"

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GOP Senate candidate suspended football player for one game — for allegedly raping a 15-year-old girl: report

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On Thursday, in an op-ed, the conservative Washington Examiner reported on an incident from Alabama Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville's career as a football coach for Auburn University in 1999.

"When Clifton Robinson, the short but quick receiver from Naples, Florida, returned to the Auburn University football team in August 1999 after pleading guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor to avoid going to trial after being charged with the second-degree rape of a 15-year-old girl, first-year head coach Tommy Tuberville pledged to figure out the right punishment for him," wrote Siraj Hashmi. "'Clifton is back on the team,' Tuberville said. 'He and I will sit down today, and I'll tell him that we do things right around here, so he can expect there will be some punishment. What it is, I don't know yet.' That punishment ended up being a mere one-game suspension from the team's Sept. 4 season opener against Appalachian State. Auburn won 22-15."

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Arizona Republican attacks Fauci and Birx for ‘undermining’ Trump with COVID-19 facts

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COVID-19 hospitalizations in Arizona set a record on Thursday, but one of the state's Republican representatives in Congress went to Fox News to urge the end of President Donald Trump's Coronavirus Task Force.

"I think that Birx and Fauci have gone well past their, their -- they've expired, their time of usefulness has expired," Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) said.

"What they do, is when the president comes out and makes a policy -- because he is the president, he is the policymaker. When they come and make these statements that they make, they engender panic and hysteria and undermine what the president's doing. That's what I think's critical," they argued.

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