We tried, Goddess knows, we tried. After the ignominy of the Supreme Court anointing Cheney and Dubya as the rightful rulers of the realm, we begged and pleaded with the Democrats in Congress to block Bush from stuffing the court with further fascist nominees, but they wouldn’t listen. Were they dumb, trusting suckers, or cons who were in on the game? Or a mixture of both?
So Roberts and (Muss)Alito were confirmed as Supreme Court Justices, and now it’s blowback time. In spite of all the right wing rhetoric against “activist judges,” our right-wing Supreme Court has made law out of whole cloth, in a decision that basically hands our government over to the corporatocracy. And yeah, the government was pretty much at the service of the corporatocracy before, but this decision is a bald-faced attempt to make it official. The ruling allows not just US corporations, but foreign corporations and foreign governments (think China and Saudi Arabia) to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence politics in this country. Sure, they can’t give directly to candidates–yet. How long will that prohibition last in the new “gimme” climate?
Like about 2/3 of all Americans, I had a basic gut reaction against this decision from the moment I heard about it, but it took a series of letters from “The Pen,” a social activist website, to really spell it out for me. I could just do the easy thing by cutting and pasting those three letters and reading them to you, but it will help me understand it better if, instead, I do my non-lawyerly best to tell you the tale in my own words, so here goes:
It appears that the Supreme Court violated legal procedure in its ruling, because the question of whether corporations have the right to make unlimited campaign contributions was not the question that was actually before the court. The question that was actually before the court was whether a Hillary Clinton-bashing movie funded by corporate interests through an astroturf group had violated the McCain-Finegold Act.
The astroturf group, “Citizens United,” had not disputed whether corporations may make unlimited financial contributions to political causes. They were merely disputing whether the Federal Election Commission could keep their film, “Hillary: The Movie,” from being shown on television at times and in places where it might influence the vote in Democratic primaries.
The way the appeal process ordinarily works in our judicial system is that, to get a ruling on a certain point, the appealing party must have disputed it in the original lawsuit. Countless legal appeals have been thrown out by higher courts for failing to follow this rule, but in this case, the Supreme Court delivered a ruling on the question of corporate financial participation in election campaigns even though that had not been disputed by “Citizens United.” When we consider how much of a fuss the right wing has made about “activist judges making law from the bench instead of through the legislature,” and how solemnly these guys promised to be strict Constitutionalists and to observe the “stare decisis” (let precedent stand) rule, we find that these Supreme Court judges have been extraordinarily disingenuous, to be kind. To be unkind, they have been flat-out liars, and all the right-wing pundits who are vigorously defending their decision, and who have helped generate the noise about “activist judges,” are even more hypocritical than ever.
Even the speed of this ruling is significant. The court heard the case at a time when they are normally on vacation, and gave attorneys barely a month to prepare for it. Why were they in such a hurry? Did some judges have their minds made up in advance?
Just to back up what I’m telling you, here is a quote from Justice Stephens’ dissent:
Essentially, five Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.
Of course,this is not the first time they have made law out of whole cloth in the interest of serving the corporate community. This has been going on ever since Ronald Reagan and Bush I started stacking the court with conservative ideologues–with the consent of the Democrats, let us not forget.
Antonin Scalia: 98-0 confirmation vote
Clarence Thomas 52-48 confirmation vote, with 11 Democrats voting with the Republican minority to approve him
Anthony Kennedy 97-0 confirmation vote (and it was Kennedy who delivered the majority opinion in the case we are talking about here)
John Roberts 78-22 confirmation vote
Samuel J. Alito 58-42–at this point the Repugs had a majority anyway, but it took Democratic co-operation to keep John Kerry from filibustering the nomination….bless his heart, someplace down in there he wants to do the right thing….
So, while we are hearing a lot from the Democrats about the necessity of “Doing something” about this ruling, the only thing we have seen so far is a law that will prevent corporations from spending money on political campaigns without the consent of their stockholders….but who owns stock? For the most part, it’s the wealthy, so this law won’t really solve anything. I’m not sure if it’s laughable or pathetic or both. Hey, the Dems don’t want to alienate all that corporate money!
But some Democrats see the writing on the wall:
Representative JAMES CLYBURN (House Majority Whip; Democrat, South Carolina): If corporations that have deep pockets come to these campaigns and make it uncomfortable for elected officials to oppose some of their habits, then I think that you’ve got a problem. It is the first step towards fascism, and I think it’s a dangerous escalation of corporate monopoly.
Please note, you just heard a Democrat from South Carolina use the f-word. I believe that indicates that we really are in deep doo-doo here, folks.
What many attempts to debate this question (not to mention the Supreme Court ruling itself) ignore is the validity of the central assertion: that corporations are persons just like flesh and blood human beings (and, quite likely, some other animals whose brains are complicated enough to allow self-referentiality, but I digress….).
Corporations are not “persons” in the same sense that human beings are “persons.” I could delve into the technicalities of the flawed, but still standing, Supreme Court ruling of 1886, but I’d rather pitch it this way: aside from the rather central matter of not having a physical body, corporations have a different central motivating factor: they are legally compelled to focus on self-aggrandizement. When a human being’s central purpose is self-aggrandizement, that person is often regarded as a sociopath or criminal and deprived of his constitutional rights in the interests of public safety, in order to protect those of us who have, presumably, overcome our infantile narcissism in favor of more altruistic goals.
Another big difference between corporations and natural persons is that corporations do not naturally die, nor are they subject to the death penalty for crimes they commit. (I am, of course, against the death penalty for human beings. Corporations, however, are another matter.) With their long lifespans and ability to consolidate the intelligence of large numbers of humans to accomplish their selfish goal–the accumulation of wealth–corporations are well positioned to prevail over natural human beings in the struggle for political power and influence. Besides, the cost of political campaigns, compared to the normal cost of advertising, is chump change to a corporation, as NPR pointed out, the $2.5 million that a corporation drops on a thirty-second Superbowl ad is enough to flood several local elections. Politicians will stand up to corporations at their peril.
We love to read fantasy stories about heroes struggling with superhuman demons…in case you didn’t notice, typical corporate activity is pretty demonic. The reasons we do not have the kind of environmental protection, health care, social services, and foreign policies that simple human compassion demands is–it’s bad for the corporations.
By the way, the Green Party has always refused on principle to take corporate donations….but of course the corporations have refused on principle to donate to the Green Party. They know who their enemies are.
Do the people of this country have the political will to make our government overturn this gross miscarriage of justice? Or will it be yet another successful power play on the sinking Titanic? Stay tuned…..
music: James McMurtry, “God Bless America”