Companies Mostly Skirting Controversial SCOTUS Rulings: Survey

Thom Weidlich 08.04.22


Companies are confronted with communicating about controversial topics, and now two U.S. Supreme Court decisions have raised anew two of the most controversial of all: abortion and gun rights. A new survey suggests that, so far, organizations are responding by, well, mostly not responding.

The survey by the Conference Board, the business think tank, conducted in late June and early July, received responses from 290 companies (49 percent public, 40 percent private, 11 percent non-profit).

The questions mostly concerned the Dobbs case, which overturned Roe v. Wade and a constitutional right to an abortion, and the Bruen case, which declared a constitutional right to possess pistols in public. The survey was conducted only weeks after the rulings came out.

Employee Benefits

The report, called “The U.S. Corporate Response to Recent Supreme Court Decisions,” found that only 10 percent of companies responded, or plan to respond, to the Dobbs opinion, with public statements, though 51 percent have internally addressed, or plan to address, reproductive rights. This has mainly related to employee benefits: health coverage or travel expenses. Only 4 percent have responded publicly to the gun ruling.

A gap yawns between potential response to the two issues. While 31 percent of companies said they’re not planning to address the abortion ruling, 73 percent said they’re not planning to address the gun case. The Conference Board suggests this is due both to the extent the abortion issue affects stakeholders (the gun ruling overturned a New York State law) and to pressure from stakeholders — and most of that pressure is coming from employees.

Seventy-five percent of the companies said the decision on whether to take a stand on the high-court rulings fell to the CEO or the CEO and senior management. The Conference Board said that, because senior management is often the source pressuring a company to speak out on controversial issues, it’s essential for leaders to tap disciplines often ignored in the decision making, such as government relations, community relations and marketing. Clearly, it’s best to have a plan to deal with tough social issues.

‘Right Approach’

“These issues are amongst the hardest to tackle for those in corporate communications, both internally and externally,” Ivan Pollard, leader of The Conference Board Marketing & Communications Center, said in a press release. “There is no right answer to what to say or what to do, but there is a right approach. This is based on a company’s values, commitments to all its stakeholders and its business.”

The study found that racial, LGBTQ+, gender equality and COVID-related topics have dominated corporations’ public statements on social issues in the past two years.

Photo Credit: Bob Korn/Shutterstock

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