A Supreme Threat to American Democracy

We’re one judge away from government of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations.

By Jamie Raskin

Jamin Raskin
Jamie Raskin

Here’s a little quiz you won’t find on the LSATs: Which Supreme Court justice called a recent ruling by the court a “threat to American democracy”? And what decision was it?

A. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote it of the Citizens United decision, which armed corporations with the political free speech rights of human beings.

B. Justice Sonia Sotomayor included this phrase in her dissent to the Shelby County v. Holder ruling, which gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

C. Justice Elena Kagan said it while reflecting on the Bush v. Gore case, which shut down the counting of more than 100,000 ballots in Florida — handing George W. Bush his first presidential win.

D. Justice Antonin Scalia penned these words when he objected to the recent Obergefell ruling, which struck down marriage discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans.

The answer is D.

I made up the rest, but they’d all be far more accurate than what Scalia said in real life.

It’s hard to think about the state of American democracy without pondering the Supreme Court. As the least democratic branch of the federal government, it’s always had outsized importance in shaping the opportunities for citizens to participate in our political institutions and social life.

Scalia
Flickr / SteveMasker

At its best, the Supreme Court has upheld the principle of “one person-one vote,” struck down whites-only party primaries, and invalidated educational apartheid. It did those important things when less enlightened views might have been more popular.

At its worst, the court has upheld poll taxes and literacy tests, okayed restrictive photo ID requirements for voting, knocked the teeth out of the Voting Rights Act, and intervened in the 2000 election to stop vote counting.

For better or worse, the Supreme Court defines the rules of engagement of American politics. So what’s at stake in the 2016 presidential race?

A whole lot.

With several justices already over 80, the next president could nominate as many as four new members of the court. Will the new justices bolster the conservatives, who favor legislative power only when it violates minority rights, or the liberals, who have demonstrated a serious commitment both to voting rights and to the legislative process?

With the plutocratic Chief Justice John Roberts and Scalia leading the way, the conservatives pose as outraged populists regarding marriage equality. They pretend, ludicrously, that they don’t believe in the court reviewing and invalidating popularly enacted laws.

What a joke. The same justices have no problem with nullifying laws that implement affirmative action, produce majority-minority legislative districts, or exclude corporations from spending money in political campaigns.

These so-called conservatives strike down almost any law that curtails the power of corporations. They just don’t like the idea of equal protection and due process applying to people.

These same so-called conservative justices have some questionable ethcal issues as well:

  • Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas attended Koch Brothers political functions at a time when the court was considering loosening limits on corporate campaign contributions.
  • Justice Samuel Alito spoke at a fundraising dinner for the conservative American Spectator magazine, where tickets were sold for as much as $25,000 a plate.
  • Justice Thomas failed to report his wife’s income from the Heritage Foundation, even as she lobbied against the Affordable Care Act while cases worked their way to the Supreme Court. He also failed to recuse himself from ACA-related cases despite a clear conflict of interest with his wife’s work.

But here’s the principal question facing the court for the foreseeable future: Who is the Constitution for? Is it for corporations, or the rest of us?

Right-wing forces want to scrap all limits on campaign spending and contributions. They want corporations to be treated as free speech actors in elections, but they don’t want workers to have any free speech rights in the workplace.

They also embrace elaborate photo ID requirements, narrow registration laws, and endless barriers to voting for communities of color and young voters.

If a future Republican president replaces even a single liberal justice with a conservative, we could wind up with a democracy of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations. Regardless of Justice Scalia’s fantasies, this is the real threat to American democracy.


Jamie Raskin is a professor of constitutional law at American University, a Maryland state senator, and a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way. He is the author of Overruling Democracy: the Supreme Court v. the American People. Distributed via OtherWords.org

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We Can’t Let Romney & his Republiban Brethren Control Washington

by Michael Keegan, President, People for the American Way

Mitt Romney, now with the presidential nomination locked up, is pivoting hard towards the political center and away from the “severely conservative” positions he so gleefully promoted during his primary fight. He’ll say anything to get elected, but under the surface, he’s still the embodiment of the Radical Right’s agenda to dismantle the institutions protecting Americans rights, safety and health, undo the social safety net, and lavish the 1% with endless tax giveaways at the expense of working families.

RomneyCourt.com: Don’t Let Mitt Romney Bork America — Last week, PFAW launched RomneyCourt.com, our campaign to educate voters about perhaps the #1 reason to oppose the election of Mitt Romney — what he would mean for the Supreme Court. The first phase of the campaign, complete with a video and a report by PFAW Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin, focuses on Romney’s selection of Robert Bork as his legal and judicial advisor — yes, that Robert Bork.  Jamie appeared on MSNBC’s “The Last Word” with Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss the report. Romney’s selection of Bork has been central to his successful wooing of the Religious Right with promises of right-wing judges. Just yesterday, a major Religious Right radio broadcast addressed why far-right conservatives should support Romney: he’ll nominate like-minded judges, including Supreme Court justices.

Ditch ALEC — The work continues to dislodge corporate support from the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), with more major victories to report. Proctor & Gamble just announced that it will join companies like Coca Cola, Pepsi, Kraft Foods, Mars, Inc., McDonald’s, Wendy’s and others in cutting off its support to ALEC. Our petition to ALEC member companies now has nearly 100,000 signatures and PFAW activists have been calling companies like State Farm and Johnson & Johnson — Proctor & Gamble’s biggest competitor — to keep the pressure up. We know these companies are counting the calls and taking note, but they’re not the only ones. State legislators are also starting to withdraw from ALEC and the media is giving this effort a lot of well-deserved coverage. ALEC is on the defensive — they’ve made moves to back away from their support of voter suppression laws and “stand your ground” laws like the one in Florida implicated in the Trayvon Martin shooting. But their anti-consumer, anti-worker, anti-environment agenda is still something that no company with popular consumer brands should want to be associated with, and with your help, we’ll keep this momentum going.

Wisconsin Recall — PFAW has ramped up our efforts to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, his right-wing cronies in the State Senate AND his radical Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch (think Wisconsin’s answer to Michele Bachmann). Scott Walker is rumored to be the subject of an investigation which could, possibly, lead to his eventual indictment. If he wins and survives the recall election on June 5 but then is forced to leave office either due to the weight of a scandal or a criminal conviction, the Lieutenant Governor would take over as Governor meaning THAT is a race we have to win as well. Running against Kleefisch on the Democratic side is the Wisconsin firefighter, Mahlon Mitchell, one of the leaders of the fight against Governor Walker’s union busting campaign. We’ll need to stay firing on all cylinders from now until June 5, as polling shows that months of TV ad blitzes, funded by the Koch brothers and other right-wing interests, have succeeded in boosting Walker’s approval levels.

Overturning Citizens UnitedLast Wednesday, PFAW joined members of Congress, state and local officials, advocacy organizations and concerned citizens for a Capitol Hill summit to amplify the call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that helped usher in unprecedented levels of corporate and Super PAC spending to influence our elections. The speakers recounted the toll that Citizens United has taken on our democracy, as their colleagues must contend with the outsized influence that wealthy special interests hold over the political system, and how it is absolutely imperative for Congress to have the authority to regulate campaign contributions and require disclosure. While there are many approaches under consideration, it was clear to all that amending the Constitution is a necessary step to restore our democracy. Read more and check out video from the event here.

Extremism Spotlight — Longtime NRA board member Ted Nugent, who endorsed Romney in early March, has been getting some heat for extreme remarks he made attacking President Obama and Supreme Court justices at the NRA’s recent convention. PFAW’s Right Wing Watch first broke the story and was successful in calling attention to Nugent’s endorsement of Mitt Romney — which was actively sought by Romney — both in online and offline media. Nugent denounced the “vile, evil, America-hating” Obama administration. He finished his remarks with a call to cut off the heads of Democrats this fall: “We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November.”

We don’t expect moderation from Ted Nugent, but we do expect a major presidential candidate like Mitt Romney to rebuke a prominent supporter for spewing hate-filled and violent rhetoric against the President of the United States. This is far from the first time that Nugent has advocated violence against his political adversaries. Mitt Romney should clearly and loudly reject Nugent’s endorsement and rebuke his inflammatory comments — something he has proven unwilling to do.

There’s plenty more going on in this crazy election year. Visit www.PFAW.org often for the latest on our work and our ongoing in-depth coverage of the Far Right. Thank you, as always, for your indispensable support.