Big Business is certainly touting it as a big win. On May 31, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected a Justice Dept. claim that accounting firm Arthur Andersen knowingly impeded a federal probe when its execs instructed employees to destroy documents that might have proven key to a government case against Enron.
Arthur Andersen is vindicated, but does it matter? For the storied accounting firm, almost certainly not. The company that once boasted 28,000 employees is now home to fewer than 200. It long ago relinquished its accounting license and no longer conducts public audits.
The courts terse, 11-page opinion, written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and issued in record time, all point to a bench that holds little patience for Justice Dept. overreaching. Good news for Corporate America, whose image has been battered by a series of very public cases against high-flying execs accused of manipulating earnings or looting the corporate till.
But in real terms, the opinion likely wont change much in the way business does business in the post-Enron era. “If youre a corporate defendant, you still have to make a deal with [New York Attorney General] Eliot Spitzer or the Justice Dept.,” says Stephen Ryan, a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and a former assistant U.S. attorney.
“You still have to suspend your document-destruction program whenever you get a subpoena. Life goes on, frankly, with very little change.”