This Election Has Been Brought To You By... Tostitos
Sonia Sotomayor begins her first term as a Supreme Court justice a month early, with a hearing in the Citizens United case that could seriously change the way campaigns are funded, and not for the better. The New York Times had a good editorial on this.
The Supreme Court may be about to radically change politics by striking down the longstanding rule that says corporations cannot spend directly on federal elections. If the floodgates open, money from big business could overwhelm the electoral process, as well as the making of laws on issues like tax policy and bank regulation.
The court, which is scheduled to hear arguments on this issue on Wednesday, is rushing to decide a monumental question at breakneck speed and seems willing to throw established precedents and judicial modesty out the window.
Corporations and unions have been prohibited from spending their money on federal campaigns since 1947, and corporate contributions have been barred since 1907. States have barred corporate expenditures since the late 1800s. These laws are very much needed today. In the 2008 election cycle, Fortune 100 companies alone had combined revenues of $13.1 trillion and profits of $605 billion. That dwarfs the $1.5 billion that Federal Election Commission-registered political parties spent during the same election period, or the $1.2 billion spent by federal political action committees.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the limitations on corporate campaign expenditures. In 1990, in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and again in 2003, in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, it made clear that Congress was acting within its authority and that the restrictions are consistent with the First Amendment.
In late June, the court directed the parties to address whether Austin and McConnell should be overruled. It gave the parties in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission a month to write legal briefs on a question of extraordinary complexity and importance, and it scheduled arguments during the court’s vacation.
All of this is disturbing on many levels. Normally, the court tries not to decide cases on constitutional grounds if they can be resolved more simply. Here the court is reaching out to decide a constitutional issue that could change the direction of American democracy.
Sotomayor's presence means extremely little to this ruling; Anthony Kennedy is likely to decide it, which is how things go on the Court these days, for the most part. If corporations are given the ability to directly fund elections, the country will be even more controlled by their interests than they are currently. For context, 1% of Exxon's profits would have been enough to out-fund John McCain and Barack Obama in 2008 - combined.
If the Roberts Court goes ahead and pulls this trigger, it makes a mockery of his lame "judges are umpires" analogy from his confirmation hearings. They would be overturning an established precedent of over a century. They would be the judicial activists interfering in the electoral process.
It's very scary and progressives should prepare themselves for it by determining their next move. I'd start a raft of suits trying to take away corporate charters in the states.
...SCOTUSBlog sez today's hearing looks bad. Real bad.
Well, we had a good run as a country.