by William Yeomans, BillMoyers.com
The following cases are examples of the Supreme Court’s empowerment of the one percent in recent years.
Each was enormously consequential and each was decided by a 5-4 vote, illustrating the crucial importance of elections to the direction of the nation’s fundamental law.
BUSH V. GORE (2000)
The Supreme Court stepped in to stop the hotly contested presidential vote recount in Florida. The Court’s five conservative members, all appointed by Republican presidents, awarded the presidency to the Republican candidate, even though the state continued to count votes and the Constitution assigns ultimate resolution of ballot disputes to Congress.
CITIZENS UNITED V. FEC, (2010)
The Court took this small dispute over a restriction on running a virulently anti-Hillary Clinton film on pay-per-view television and blew it up into a devastating constitutional ruling that has distorted our political process beyond recognition. Not content with issuing a limited ruling, the Court ordered the parties to address whether significant constitutional precedent should be overturned. The Court proceeded to wipe out a century of precedent, holding that corporations have First Amendment rights that prohibit restrictions on their independent campaign expenditures. Justice Anthony Kennedy justified the decision by stating as constitutional principle the notion that independent expenditures cannot corrupt. This landmark decision has combined with its progeny to empower big moneyed interests.
ARIZONA FREE ENTERPRISE CLUB’S FREEDOM PAC V. BENNETT (2011)
Continuing its assault on campaign finance laws, the Court struck down Arizona’s Clean Election Act, a law adopted by referendum. It provided public financing to candidates who agreed to spending limits and to participating in debates. It also provided for an increase in the funding limit when a candidate was outspent by self-financed candidates or contributions from PACs and other outside groups. The conservative majority concluded that the availability of increased public funding deterred speech because it discouraged candidates from spending more than the publicly funded candidate. Justice Elena Kagan pointed out the absurdity of the position that subsidizing speech creates less speech. “So they are making a novel argument: that Arizona violated their First Amendment rights by disbursing funds to other speakers even though they could have received (but chose to spurn) the same financial assistance,” she concluded. “Some people might call that chutzpah.”