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The Supreme Court’s Continuing Defense Of The Powerful

The United States Supreme Court now sees its central task as comforting the already comfortable and afflicting those already afflicted.

If you are a large corporation or a political candidate backed by lots of private money, be assured that the court’s conservative majority will be there for you, solicitous of your needs and ready to swat away those pesky little people who dare to contest your power.

This court has created rules that will have the effect of declaring some corporations too big to be challenged through class actions, as

AT&T customers and female employees at Wal-Mart discovered.

And remember how sympathetic conservatives are supposed to be to the states as “laboratories of democracy,” pioneering solutions to hard problems?

Tell that to the people of Arizona.

They used a referendum to establish a highly practical system of financing political campaigns that the court, in a 5-4 decision Monday, eviscerated. It was designed to reduce corruption and give a fighting chance to candidates who decide to forgo contributions from special interests.

The people acted, noted Justice Elena Kagan in a brilliantly scalding dissent, after a scandal in which “nearly 10 percent of the state’s legislators were caught accepting campaign contributions or bribes in exchange for supporting a piece of legislation.”

Under Arizona’s “clean elections” initiative, candidates who raised a modest amount in very small contributions could receive a lump sum of public money. They could raise no further private funds.

No candidate had to join the public system. But if a privately financed candidate or the interest groups supporting his or her campaign started outspending one who was publicly financed, the public system came to the rescue with additional cash so the “clean money” candidate wouldn’t be blown out of the race by lethal dollar bills.

Why was this important? Kagan was spot on: “Candidates will choose to sign up” for public funding “only if the subsidy provided enables them to run competitive races.” Such breathtaking common sense has been missing from the majority’s recent campaign finance decisions — notably its Citizens United ruling, also a 5-4 conservative ukase, allowing our poor, beleaguered corporations to expand their power in American politics.

Here’s the stunning part: For years, opponents of campaign finance reform have accused those who want to repair the system of trying to reduce the amount of political speech. But Arizona’s law, as Kagan pointed out, “subsidizes and so produces more political speech.” And then there was this shot at Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion: “Except in a world gone topsy-turvy, additional campaign speech and electoral competition is not a First Amendment injury.”

Indeed, Roberts had to argue that those terribly downtrodden candidates financed with private money had their speech “burdened,” simply because their publicly financed opponents had the means to respond.

Kagan and the dissenters stood up for free speech. Roberts’ majority defended paid speech. The dissenters want to allow candidates to talk; the majority wants to enhance money’s ability to talk.

Roberts was especially exercised over any notion of “leveling the playing field” between private-money candidates and their challengers. He even included a footnote calling attention to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission’s Web site, which once said the law was passed “to level the playing field when it comes to running for office.” Horrors!

Kagan archly noted the “majority’s distaste for ‘leveling’ ” and then dismissed its obsession, observing that Roberts failed to take seriously the Arizona law’s central purpose of containing corruption. Leveling was the means, not the end.

Nonetheless, pay heed to how this conservative court majority bristles at nearly every effort to give the less wealthy and less powerful an opportunity to prevail, whether at the ballot box or in the courtroom. Not since the Gilded Age has a Supreme Court been so determined to strengthen the hand of corporations and the wealthy. Thus the importance of the Wal-Mart and AT&T cases, the latter described by the New York Times as “a devastating blow to consumer rights.” Will the court now feel so full of its power that it takes on the executive and legislative branches over the health-care law?

In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt warned that the courts had “grown to occupy a position unknown in any other country, a position of superiority over both the legislature and the executive.” Worse, “privilege has entrenched itself in many courts just as it formerly entrenched itself in many legislative bodies and in many executive offices.”

What happens to a democracy when its highest court dedicates itself to defending privilege? That’s the unfortunate experiment on which we are now embarked.

By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, Published June 29, 2011

July 4, 2011 - Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Corporations, Democracy, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, SCOTUS, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. E.J. Dionne did not disappoint with this cogent yet passionate description of the perils we are under by a Supreme Court so obviously pushing forth an unconstitutional agenda. It bears noting that many of the conservative justices are being flown around the country (dare I say the world) at the expense of major ultra-right-wing corporate interest where they are wined and dined all the while being exposed to the not so subtle desires of their benefactors.

    The only solution I can imagine in the short term is for the non-privileged to keep raising the alarm and for the “independent” media to continue to expose the inner workings and corporate fêtes of the Judiciary branch of government. With that information, we need to vote in a majority Democratic house and at least 60 Democratic senators including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and fianlly reelect President Obama in 2012. With these election results the people will have the power again to get investigations conducted on the unethical behavoir and bring about impeachment hearings on the offending justices. Move the court back to the center or center/left will allow this grievous decisions to be challenged by new cases for review. Overturning these undemocratic decisions before they can become the basis of convoluted legal precedents is imperative for the safety of the republic and the continuation of our representative democracy controlled ultimately by the will of the people for the people.

    Thank you for posting this great piece!

    Like

    Comment by mjg7 | July 4, 2011 | Reply

    • Excellent comments and analysis. The problem that I see is that most people remain disengaged…until it is too late. A perfect example is the 2010 election results. The GOP and their financiers know this and count on the fact that “no one is watching”. With their recent decisions regarding personhood, the 3rd branch of government has become a major enabler of those who are contributing to the disenfranchisment of The American people. Corporations have bought out representative democracy. It will only get worse as they become more embloden. One can only hope that reasonable people, and I use that term loosely, will wake up and see what is going on. We have too much to lose. Thanks for your input and keep up your good work!

      Like

      Comment by raemd95 | July 5, 2011 | Reply


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