It may be that "the business of America is business," as Calvin Coolidge said in 1925. It may be, too, that in the just-ended term of the Supreme Court, the "business" cases were also the business of America - but in a much broader sense than the late president could have imagined.
The so-called business cases, it turns out, were at the same time government cases, or consumer cases, or enviromental cases, or tax cases, or nuclear power cases, or First Amendment cases. And while not billed as a business case, the famed Bakke case surely had enough implications for business to qualify as one.
The court made a few decisions with truly profound implications for American business - and for American society as well.
One was the 5-to-4 ruling granting First Amendment rights to corporations, so that a state no longer can prevent business executives from spending corporate funds to propagate personal and political views unrelated to the business purposes of their companies.
Another was the 9-to-0 ruling ordering the federal courts to stop intervening in decisions about the necessity and safety of nuclear power that Congress entrusted to a regulatory agency.
By and large, however, the court sent down no thunderbolts. Instead, it essentially consolidated, refined and solved, or tried to solve, particular problems. Antitrust is a major case in point.
A year ago, the court, in an antitrust decision of great importance, held that only direct purchasers or middlemen, but no ultimate consumers, are empowered to seek triple damages for price-fixing or other illegal restraints of trade.
In the term just ended, the court did nothing of that dimension, although it did make some significant rulings.
In one, the court held 5 to 4 that if a municipality engages in anticompetitive activities without the authorization of a state legislature to do so, it may be liable for treble damages.
In another, the court held that when a company is prosecuted for price-fixing under the Sherman Act, it cannot defend itself by invoking a provision of the Robinson-Patman Act that allows a seller to adjust prices to "meet competition."
Closing some more loopholes, the court held:
That a foreign nation claiming to be injured by antitrust violations is a "person" who is entitled to seek treble damages in American courts.
That the National Society of Professional Engineers illegally restrained trade by making it unethical for its 69,000 members to submit competitive bids for engineering services - a holding that will make it more difficult for other professions to eliminate competition with the rationale that they are insuring high ethical standards.
That the Capper-Volstead Act, enacted in 1922 to exempt from the Sherman Act cooperatives formed by "farmers," does not apply to the National Broiler Marketing Association, a nationwide cooperative whose members include huge agribusiness corporations.
That the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945, which assigned regulation of the insurance business to the states, allows policyholders to sue carriers for antitrust violations.
Generally, the court continued to defer to administrative agencies. Fo example, the National Labor Relations Board won no matter whether the adversary was a business or a union. And the Federal Communications Commission won an 8-to-0 victory for its policy of preserving most of the newspaper-broadcast combinations now in existence while generally barring new ones.
But in an outstanding exception, the court voted 9 to 0 to affirm a decision that the Securities and Exchange Commission lacked authority to issue a series of summary orders - in a single set of circumstances - so as to suspend trading in a security beyond the initial 10-day period permitted by law.
In the always troubling areas of state regulation of commerce and taxation, the court made several decisions impacting sharply on business. It held:
That a coalition of 19 states was empowered to pool resources and use uniform procedures to audit the books of large corporations to see if they have been avoiding taxes owed to any of the jurisdictions.
That Iowa's unique method of taxing corporations - solely on the basis of the share of net income attributable to sales made within its boundaries - complies with the Constitution, just as does the formula in 44 states that relates payroll, property and sales within their borders to the same three factors nationwide.
That a state (Maryland) could restructure gasoline retailing by barring operation of service stations by major oil companies and all other out-of-state producers and refiners.
Major oil companies lost again when, in a separate ruling that could cost them tens of millions of dollars, the court held 8 to 0 that the Interstate Commerce Commission was empowered to hold down prices for shipping crude through their Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
In other major rulings, the court held:
That an employer can bar from a workplace a federal safety and health inspector who doesn't have a search warrant - but that if prevented from making an unannounced inspection, the inspector need not demonstrate probable cause, in the customary criminal-law sense to get a search warrant.
That a state cannot try to get jobs for its own residents by requiring employers to discriminate against nonresidents.
That a woman cannot be deprived of her accumulated job seniority for taking a leave to bear a child.
That a pension plan cannot make women pay more than men for the same retirement benefits simply because the average female lives longer than the average male.
That an inventor cant patent a method for identifying a limited category of useful but conventional applications when the only novelty is a mathematical formula - a ruling expected to head off thousands of patent applications from the vast computer "software" industry.