By John Dean
The conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has given a monumental victory to special interests—i.e., the big money corporations, the folks who already dominate Washington politics—with its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy (who wrote the court’s opinion), have gone out of their way to further obliterate serious efforts to reform out-of-control campaign spending—spending that conspicuously distorts democracy in favor of those who can buy political influence. This ruling is of the same judical activism ilk that produced Bush v. Gore, not to mention the ensuing eight years of a disastrous Bush/Cheney presidency from which the nation has yet to recover. Understandably, President Obama is flummoxed.
This decision is long, at 183 pages. It includes a powerful dissent by the four centrist justices (there are no liberals on this court). And the ruling is chock full of nuanced information that spells out what Congress can and cannot do to reform our dysfunctional and money-hungry election system. This is not a ruling that lends itself to instant analysis. Those who follow this subject far closer than I do will be figuring it out for days, if not months. However, I would recommend the following sites for a quick take on the ruling: Slate (good overview), SCOTUSBLOG (which has followed the case closely), and, in particular, The Brennan Center (which filed an amicus brief in the case and will be leading the way in sorting out the full meaning). To understand what the court majority did, scroll down to about Page 88 of your .pdf reader and read the dissent written by Justice John Paul Stevens, and joined by Justices Ruth Ginsburg, Steven Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. It is an eye-opener.
Aside from the fact that the majority ruling reeks of conservative politics, what I find most striking about conservative judicial activism typified by this ruling is the fact that the justices involved are totally out of touch with reality. None of the men involved in this historic decision have been elected to anything, ever. They have no idea how difficult it is for elected officials to deal in the contemporary money-flooded milieu of Washington. The work experience of those who have further opened the floodgates for money in politics is restricted to the executive branch, high-priced law firms, or the chambers of the lower federal appellate courts. Not since the late Justice Hugo Black, a former U.S. senator who retired in 1971, has the court had a member of Congress on its bench, someone who can explain the real world to the other justices. These conservative justices live in a bubble, and they have little true understanding of what they have done, other than, of course, to know that they have taken care of conservatives, the so-called Citizens United who filed this lawsuit. (Yes, David N. Bossie, the president of Citizens United, is the same fellow who worked overtime to impeach President Bill Clinton.)
After I fully digest this decision and speak with friends in Washington who have long been concerned that the Bush/Cheney legacy that now controls the high court might do as they have in fact done, I will share further thoughts about the damage this ruling will bring, and what can and will be done. For this ruling has the potential of being even more pernicious than Bush v. Gore, since it reaches not merely the presidency but every elective office in the United States. Conservatives may not know how to govern when they are in power, but they sure know how to make certain that centrists, progressives and liberals are not given a sustained opportunity to work their will.
John Dean served as Richard M. Nixon’s White House lawyer for 1,000 days and is the author of several books, including “Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush” and ” Conservatives Without Conscience.”
AP / Lauren Victoria Burke
Citizens United President David Bossie, right, meets with reporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Thursday after the top court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.