Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on how much money ExxonMobil should be forced to pay as damages for its Exxon Valdez oil spill 19 years ago. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank notes that Chief Justice John Roberts appeared “bothered” that Exxon might have to pay for its destruction:
What bothered the chief justice was that Exxon was being ordered to pay $2.5 billion — roughly three weeks’ worth of profits — for destroying a long swath of the Alaska coastline in the largest oil spill in American history.
“So what can a corporation do to protect itself against punitive-damages awards such as this?” Roberts asked in court.
The lawyer arguing for the Alaska fishermen affected by the spill, Jeffrey Fisher, had an idea. “Well,” he said, “it can hire fit and competent people.”
The rare sound of laughter rippled through the august chamber. The chief justice did not look amused.