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

Finally, a Republican Who Makes Sense—Sensenbrenner

Rep. Sensenbrenner

Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder asked a Federal court in the state of Texas to subject the State of Texas to pre-clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. While the US Supreme Court may have struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, they did not repeal the law as a whole. That means the remaining sections of the law are in full force and actions can and may be exercised by the Attorney General of the United States.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) told The Hill on Thursday that critics of the Justice Department’s actions related to the Texas redistricting and voting laws were misrepresenting the facts. “The [Justice] department’s actions are consistent with the Voting Rights Act,” he said, noting that Voting Rights Act still allows challenges to changes that would suppress minority voters.

“Increased litigation will be one of the major consequences of the court’s decision as courts will have to litigate more allegations of voter discrimination under Section 2 and whether jurisdictions should be ‘bailed-in’ to pre-clearance coverage,” he added.

Read the full article at ThinkProgress

Fair Elections — RIP

The Supreme Court’s Shelby ruling aids a Republican plan to win more elections without winning support from more voters.

— by Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins

imageVoting rights are under attack again — this time it’s the Supreme Court’s turn.

The majority’s ruling in the Shelby County vs. Holder case gutted key Voting Rights Act provisions at a time when minority access to the polls faces new obstacles.

As Justice Ruth Ginsburg explained and proved in her dissent, the law is working well but remains necessary. She likened the ruling to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

But not everyone is peeved. The decision cheered up any Republican leaders who remained sour that their hospitality to the far-right fringe came back to bite them last November.

In what’s turning into a tradition, tea-partying enthusiasts forced rabid Senate candidates onto the ballot in 2012. Some of them lost what might have been easy wins when they turned out to be too radical for the general public.

Then there’s the White House. Despite spending a record $1.2 billion to win the presidency, Mitt Romney and the GOP blew that race.

Yes, the GOP did hang onto its majority in the House of Representatives. But Republicans now only have a 33-seat edge on the competition in that chamber, down from the 49-seat margin they enjoyed before the 2012 elections.

Now, you might guess these great leaders would move swiftly to rebrand the GOP to appeal to more voters. Or distance their party from those vote-repelling tea partiers. Well, guess again. They’ve settled on a different strategy: cheating.

An earlier Supreme Court ruling helped make this new approach possible. Remember that Citizens United decision? It allowed corporations for the first time to buy directly into elections with unlimited contributions.

The Republicans found out in November, when Romney outspent Barack Obama by more than $100 million, that it will take more than gobs of corporate cash to win big.

But money is only one GOP angle. Another is fraud. No, no, not that Republicans will vote twice or anything so pedestrian.

Instead, they accuse poor people of voting fraudulently, and thereupon get legislatures to pass laws making voting a serious hassle if you’re not part of the in-group with a government-issued photo ID. Republican operatives are also fond of flyers and announcements that threaten insecure new citizens and poorly educated voters with arrest if their papers are not exactly in order.

Another voting deterrence tool is inconvenience. Other nations — and many states — have long worked to increase polling places, lengthen voting hours, stimulate mail balloting, and simplify procedures.

Contrarily, numerous Republican-controlled states are seeking to reverse all those trends. The GOP’s theory is simple enough: We know who poorer, less mobile people tend to vote for, and it isn’t us. Hey, let’s make it as hard for them to vote as we can.

Yet another tactic is gerrymandering. State legislatures normally draw boundaries not only for their own districts but for Congress as well. In some states, lawmakers exert this power mainly to protect their own personal seats.

Ginsburg calls these tactics “second-generation barriers to minority voting.” Thanks to that shiny new Supreme Court ruling, they’re now easier to pull off.

Now the Republican Party, wherever it’s in charge, is going further. It’s crowding Democratic voters, especially around urban centers, into a few contorted pockets. This practice spreads the Republican voters around, helping the GOP accumulate additional “safe” legislative and congressional seats.

The GOP’s creative redistricting explains why President Obama won Wisconsin by more than 200,000 votes while Democrats only carried three of the state’s eight congressional districts.

There’s more. Coming soon to a gerrymandered state near you: an attack on presidential elections.

Here’s how this trick works: Each state gets to determine how its own electoral votes will be allocated — either by a statewide “winner-take-all” system or by congressional district. Republican-gerrymandered states are moving quickly to distribute their electoral votes by congressional district.

Isn’t that convenient? Even if the Republican Party doesn’t need any more help from the Supreme Court, our democracy sure does.


Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. OtherWords.org  Photo credit to Denver Post Blog

The Modern Movement for Civil Rights

Congress must act to correct the Supreme Court’s many wrongs.

— by Julian Bond

Julian_Bond

The racial picture in America has improved remarkably in my lifetime, so much so that a black man has been elected and re-elected President of the United States — an unthinkable development just a few years ago.

But paradoxically, Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 convinced many that all racial barriers and restrictions had been vanquished and we had entered racial nirvana across the land.

This was just one of the many unfair burdens placed on Obama’s presidency. We knew that his victory didn’t herald a post-civil rights America or mean that race had been vanquished. It couldn’t eliminate structural inequity or racist attitudes.

The truth is that Jim Crow may be dead, but racism is alive and well. That’s the central fact of life for every non-white American, including the President of the United States. It eclipses income, position, and education. Race trumps them all.

Voting Rights Obstacles, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Voting Rights Obstacles, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Our first order of business now needs to be demanding that Congress reformulate the pre-clearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court has just invalidated.

Like the Court’s affirmative action ruling the day before, the voting rights decision could have been worse.

But we can’t live with “it could have been worse,” especially when it comes to voting. We must insist on “it has to be the best.”

This ruling was devious and perverse.

It was devious because the Court’s majority used Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act to effectively end Section 5, essentially voiding the federal government’s ability to guarantee minority access to the polls. At the same time, the ruling sidestepped the court’s historic deference to Congress and blamed lawmakers for not updating the formula.

It was perverse because these justices cited the fact that large numbers of blacks voted in 2012 as a reason to take away the law that allowed them to vote.

Today, we have much more to work with and we take heart that so much has changed. The changes that have come have everything to do with the work of the modern movement for civil rights.

There needs to be a constantly growing and always reviving activist movement across America if we are going to maintain and expand victories and our vision for the country.

We must not forget that Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before and with thousands — the people who made the mighty movement what it was.

From Jamestown’s slave pens to Montgomery’s boycotted buses, these ordinary men and women labored in obscurity. From Montgomery forward they provided the foot soldiers of the freedom army. They shared, with King, “an abiding faith in America.”

They walked in dignity, rather than ride in shame. They faced bombs in Birmingham and mobs in Mississippi. They sat down at lunch counters so others could stand up. They marched and they organized.

King didn’t march from Selma to Montgomery by himself. He didn’t speak to an empty field at the March on Washington.

There were thousands marching with him, and before him, and thousands more who did the dirty work that preceded the triumphal march.

The successful strategies of the modern movement for civil rights were litigation, organization, mobilization, and coalition, all aimed at creating a national constituency for civil rights. Sometimes the simplest of deeds — sitting at a lunch counter, going to a new school, applying for a marriage license, casting a vote — can challenge the way we think and act.

Racial justice, economic equality, and world peace — these were the themes that occupied King’s life. They ought to occupy ours today.

We have a long and honorable tradition of social justice in this country. It still sends forth the message that when we act together we can overcome.

A first order of business might be gathering in Washington on August 24 to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington and to demand that Congress act to correct the Supreme Court’s many wrongs.


Julian Bond was Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors from February 1998 until February 2010 and is now Chairman Emeritus. He is a Distinguished Scholar in the School of Government at American University in Washington, DC, and a Professor Emeritus in History at the University of Virginia.  Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org