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The US Supreme Court is more friendly to businesses than any time since World War II

*Justices more likely to side with business
*Six of the ten most pro-business are on the bench now

Supreme Court Nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch stands with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2017.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
Supreme Court Nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch stands with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2017.

The current set of justices in the Supreme Court is more likely to find in favor of businesses than any court since at least WWII, according to a recently updated study. With the addition of Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's pick for the court, businesses are likely to continue their successful bids.

The current court led by Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, has decided in favor of business litigants over 60 percent of the time, according to the research. That's a big leap from the 44 percent pro-business cases the court decided when led by Ronald Reagan-appointed William Rehnquist.

But it's not just Republican-appointed justices who are embracing big business: In the Roberts Court, Democrat-appointed justices are more likely to side with businesses too. Not only are they more likely than previous Democratic appointees, but they support business significantly more than many Republican appointees from prior courts.

The newly released data confirms findings in a paper published in 2013, "How Business Fares in the Supreme Court," in which a trio of academics found that the Roberts Court was more likely to decide cases for businesses in general and for bigger businesses when two companies were the litigants. In the original study, the researchers looked at cases that involved a business on one or both sides of the dispute. The new data add cases decided since 2013 in which a business opposed a government entity, employees, shareholders or non-business organizations.

The study found that Republican-appointed justices were significantly more likely to decide cases for a business than Democrat-appointed justices.

An additional wrinkle was the question of whether more high-profile cases were treated differently. That is, if the court overall was more friendly to business, did that play out with big, precedent-setting cases? To tackle that, they added an additional dimension — cases that generated front-page news in the New York Times.

According to the updated research, the Roberts Court is even more likely to decide those front-page cases in businesses' favor than smaller, less well-known cases. Over 73 percent of high-profile decisions have gone that way since 2005.

There have been 36 justices to serve on the court since the 1946 term. Of the 10 most pro-business justices since then, six are members of the current court. Two were appointed by former President Obama (Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor) and have decided in favor of business more than some of their Republican-appointed colleagues. (Kagan and Sotomayor are the most recent additions, so the number of cases they've heard make comparisons difficult.)

In the original study, no Democratic appointee decided for business more than any Republican appointee.

The justices' behavior tends to be different in cases that are narrowly decided by a vote of five to four. For example, Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg's votes are only slightly more anti-business than average, but in close votes they are much more likely to be on the anti-business side, according to the 2013 paper. Ideologically conservative or moderate justices are three times more likely to vote on the pro-business side in those close cases than in other cases.

Those 5-4 cases likely have high ideological stakes, and the data show that justices are more likely to split along the lines of the party that nominated them — Republican appointees become more pro-business, while Democrat appointees swing the other way. That party gap has widened in the current court.

The Supreme Court is unlikely to turn against businesses any time soon. Two analyses of Trump's nominee, Neil Gorsuch, place him on the conservative end of the spectrum, near Justice Samuel Alito. If we assume that Gorsuch will also be near Alito's positions in business cases, that will leave us with one of the most business-friendly courts in history. While some Democrats have signaled that they will slow the nominee's approval process, it's unlikely that they will be able to block the appointment completely.