On CNN’s website today, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin laments out how small a role the Supreme Court has played in the presidential election so far. He writes:
With a little more than a month to go, it's not too late to ask the candidates to take a stand on their plans for the court. The president has already had two appointments, and he named Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. But what does Obama, a former law professor, think about the court? Does he believe in a "living" Constitution, whose meaning evolves over time? Or does he believe, like Justices Scalia and Thomas, that the meaning of the document was fixed when it was ratified, in the 18th century.
By the same token, what kind of justices would Romney appoint? Who are his judicial role models? Romney has praised Chief Justice John Roberts, but is the candidate still a fan even after the chief voted to uphold the ACA?
No one is asking these questions. But there are few more important things to know about our current and future presidents.
Toobin is absolutely right that the candidates’ plans for the Supreme Court deserve a lot more air time than they’re getting. But he’s wrong to suggest that we know nothing about what President Obama and Governor Romney have in mind for the Court.
President Obama has already picked two Supreme Court justices. Both, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, have been strong moderates, balancing out the retro extremism of Justices Scalia and Thomas. When female Wal-Mart employees wanted to band together to sue their employer for pay discrimination, Sotomayor and Kagan stood on the side of the women’s rights, while Scalia and Thomas twisted the law to side with the corporation. When Justices Thomas and Scalia ruled that a woman harmed by a generic drug couldn’t sue the drug’s manufacturer in state court, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan stood up for the rights of the consumer.
Mitt Romney obviously hasn’t had a chance to pick a Supreme Court justice yet, but he’s given us a pretty good idea of who he would choose if given the opportunity. On his website, Romney promises to “nominate judges in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.” After the Supreme Court’s ruling in the health care reform case, Romney announced he had changed his mind about Roberts, who declined to destroy the law while still writing a stunningly retrogressive opinion redefining the Commerce Clause.
And, of course, Romney sent a clear signal to his conservative base when he tapped Robert Bork to advise him on legal and judicial issues. Bork’s record, and what he signals about Romney’s position on the Supreme Court, is chilling:
Romney’s indicated that he would want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. He’s even attacked the premise of Griswold v. Connecticut, the decision that prohibited states from outlawing birth control by establishing a right to privacy.
Yes, the candidates should be made to answer more questions about their plans for the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. But there’s a lot that we already know.
(For more, check out PFAW’s website RomneyCourt.com.)
The Citizens United decision brought about the rise of super PACs, and empowered 501(c)(4) public advocacy groups and 501(c)(6) trade associations to participate in (at times secretly-funded) electoral advocacy. The resulting influx of money into the election cycle has considerably altered the political landscape – and D.C. lobbyists have taken note.
As reported by Dave Levinthal at POLITICO, interest groups are utilizing super PACs to ‘twist arms.’
So for some issue interest groups, super PACs are a potentially major complement to — if not upgrade over — traditional, Capitol Hill lobbying in their ability to bring heat on lawmakers and twist their arms toward their agendas.
“If you’re a lobbyist, you’re talking with a legislator and mention you’re forming a super PAC, their ears are really going to perk up just because you said the words ‘super PAC,’” said Shana Glickfield, a partner at public affairs firm Beekeeper Group. “It’s such a big, scary thing — and can give you an extra edge of influence.”
One of the first powerful lobbying firms to create a super PAC for additional influence was the National Association of Realtors, which has since rewarded lawmakers friendly to their agenda with hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertisements and air cover. A host of other lobbying groups have done so as well.
As People For noted in our written testimony for the Senate Constitution Subcommittee hearing this past July on the need for constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United, the power of super PACs is twofold. Not only can special interest groups now spend freely on elections to promote their policy agenda, they can threaten to spend freely, effectively achieving the same result.
Of course, to accomplish its goals, a corporation need not actually spend such sums in every race they are interested in. Far from it. Especially for offices or in areas where electoral races are generally not overwhelmingly expensive – in other words, for most state and local legislative and judicial elections throughout the United States – the implied threat to spend large expenditures against elected officials could easily be enough to “persuade” them to take the “right” position. Conversely, the promise of an enormous windfall in supportive corporate independent expenditures could have an equally persuasive effect.
Such corruption leaves no evidence: no paper trail, no recordings, no ads. But it poisons our nation’s democracy.
Do D.C. lobbyists really need more tools in their arsenal to effectively ‘twist arms’? Are Sacramento lobbyists, Albany lobbyists, Tallahassee lobbyists or any other state-based lobbyists in desperate need of influence?
The obvious answer is no. Yet in the post-Citizens United world, the game is rigged, and those with power only accrue more of it. The people, meanwhile, are left with less and less of a say in government. It’s no wonder the Democratic Party, President Obama, nearly 2,000 public officials, seven state legislatures and over 300 cities/towns, and 1.98 million Americans are in support of a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United decision.
Mitt Romney’s Scalia-filled Supreme Court took to the streets again this week, this time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Following a successful Romney Court event in Columbus, Ohio, the Romney Court campaign, led in PA by People For the American Way’s Jodi Hirsh, revealed its Scalia-filled Supreme Court in Market Square to inform voters about the dangers of having Mitt Romney nominate Supreme Court justices for lifetime terms.
Twenty-six years ago this week, back in 1986, Antonin Scalia was confirmed to a lifetime seat on the United States Supreme Court, where he has since done great damage to the rights of ordinary Americans. Since Mitt Romney points to Scalia as the type of Justice he would nominate, a group of PFAW activists in Ohio took this week’s anniversary as an opportunity to reach out to voters and let them know what would be in store for them under a Romney Court.
Seth Bringman of People For’s Romney Court Campaign turned Romney’s dream into a reality; or more accurately, the nightmare that it would be for the American people.
Romney’s commitment to appoint justices like Antonin Scalia would have devastating consequences if Romney were elected president. Every law that the states and Congress pass can end up before Supreme Court; who sits on the bench has lasting importance not only for today, but for generations to come. In the words of President (and later Chief Justice) William Howard Taft, “Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court goes on forever.”
Here are a few highlights of Scalia’s legacy (and thus also the legacy of the president, Ronald Reagan, who nominated him more than a quarter century ago):
▶ Scalia has said that Roe v. Wade does not make any sense and that a woman’s right to choose is not a liberty protected by the Constitution.
▶ Scalia says the Constitution doesn’t protect the privacy of two consenting adults in their own homes.
▶ Scalia held that corporations can spend unlimited money on elections (Citizens United).
▶ Scalia has always found some excuse to uphold discrimination against gay people, and has argued that states are free to pass laws singling out gay people for mistreatment just because legislators don’t like them.
▶ Scalia voted to allow a company to use the fine print of its consumer contracts, such as for cell phones, to immunize itself from being sued even by customers it purposely and illegally defrauded.
▶ Scalia voted to deny female employees of a large national company who were victims of systemic discrimination the right to join together and go to court to stand up for their rights.
▶ Scalia voted that a woman who was paid less than men at her company for the same work for 20 years could not file a discrimination suit against her employer because she failed to file her suit within 180 days of her first paycheck, even though she had no way of knowing at that time that she was being discriminated against.
While Ronald Reagan may be long gone from the White House, his nominees to the nation’s highest court are still imposing a far right agenda on the nation. Should Mitt Romney have the opportunity to mold the Court in his own image, they may still be there well into the 2040s. To find out more about Mitt Romney’s frightening vision for the Supreme Court, visit http://romneycourt.com/.
In today's polarized political climate, there are a few things on which American voters overwhelmingly agree. For all our disputes, we can find common ground in this: we're completely fed up. About 80 percent of us don't think Congress is doing a good job. Only aboutone third of us view the federal government favorably. In a precipitous drop, less than half of Americans have a favorable view of the Supreme Court. Across all political lines, 75 percent of Americans say there is too much money in politics, and about the same percentage think this glut of money in politics gives the rich more power than the rest in our democracy.
Interestingly, another thing that most Americans have in common is that 80 percent of us have never heard of Citizens United v. FEC, the case in which the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Our feelings of frustration with Washington are deeply connected with the widespread, and entirely founded, suspicion that our elected officials aren't representing voters, but are instead indebted to the wealthy interests that pay for their campaigns. This distrust has only deepened as politicians and the courts have handed over more and more power to those with the deepest pockets.
Citizens United is only the most famous of the recent spate of Supreme Court decisions aimed at eliminating hard-won campaign finance regulations. In fact, shortly before Citizens United, the George W. Bush-created right-wing bloc of the Supreme Court issued major rulings that had already begun to undermine decades of federal clean election laws.
And we are only partway down the slippery slope. It keeps getting worse as the Supreme Court gradually dismantles state-level clean elections laws, as it did in Arizona, and clarifies that its sweeping decision in Citizens United applies to states as well, as it did in Montana. Indeed, it won't be long before this or some future right-wing Supreme Court cuts to the chase and lifts the century-old ban on direct corporate contributions to political candidates, one of the most basic checks we have against widespread corruption.
Believe it or not, this November, we'll have the chance to vote on whether this slippery slope continues, or whether we stop it and roll it back. Each of these regressive campaign finance rulings has had a monumental impact on our democracy. It's easy to forget that they have been made by one-vote 5-4 majorities of the Supreme Court. That means we're just one Supreme Court vote away from stopping the trend in its tracks -- and even reversing it. Although Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on many issues, he's crystal clear about how he feels on this issue and exactly what kind of judge he would appoint to the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. He has said he believes "corporations are people" and he means it. He's promised to nominate more Supreme Court justices like the ones who handed down Citizens United. And his chief judicial adviser, former judge Robert Bork, is legendary in his opposition to individual voting rights while advocating expansive corporate power. On this issue in particular, President Obama has been very clear and comes down unambiguously on the opposite side. Look no further than his Supreme Court picks so far. Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor have consistently resisted the right-wing court's radical transformation of our democracy. In fact, his nominees now represent half the votes in the High Court who are standing up for democracy against "government by and for" the highest bidder.
Some 2008 Obama voters may not be thrilled by the last four years. Some may even be considering giving Mitt Romney a chance, despite their misgivings. But no matter who your candidate is, what issues you care about or on what side you come down on them, most importantly your vote this November will likely determine the Supreme Court for a generation. If Romney has the opportunity to replace one of the more moderate Supreme Court justices, the Court's far-right majority will not remain narrow. The votes will be there to dismantle any remaining limits of money in politics for the foreseeable future. Conversely, future Obama appointments give Americans the chance to halt this downward spiral and the opportunity to reclaim our democracy.
Whatever the issues you most care about, this November's election will be a choice between two Supreme Courts. And the two alternatives could not be more different. Quite simply, this is the chance that the overwhelming majority of Americans -- who recognize that there is too much money in politics and that it is corrupting our government at every level -- finally have to vote on it.
Will we seize this opportunity?
Three years ago today, the first Supreme Court confirmation battle of Barack Obama's presidency came to an end. Justice Sonia Sotomayor took the oath of office on August 8, 2009, after enduring days of hearings at which she had been lambasted by Senate Republicans for such offenses as calling herself a "wise Latina" and acknowledging, like many male nominees before her, the shocking fact that her life experiences had shaped her perspective on the law.
In the three years since, I've been relieved to have Justice Sotomayor on the Court. I haven't agreed with all her decisions, but she has shown time and again that she understands how the Constitution protects our rights -- all of our rights. In 2010, she dissented to the Court's disastrous Citizens United decision, which twisted the law and Constitution to give corporations and the super wealthy dangerous influence over our elections. In 2011, she joined the four-justice minority that stood up for the rights of women Wal-Mart employees who were the victims of entrenched sex discrimination. This year, she was part of the narrow majority that upheld the Affordable Care Act, saving a clearly constitutional law that is already helping millions of Americans receive health care coverage.
Over and over again in the past years, the Supreme Court has split between two very different visions of the law and the Constitution. On one side, we have justices like Sotomayor who understand how the Constitution protects all of our rights in changing times. On the other side, we have right-wing justices like Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, who are determined to walk back American progress, turn their backs on the values enshrined in the Constitution, and ignore decades of our laws and history. On issues from voting rights to women's equality to environmental regulation, Americans' rights are being decided by the Supreme Court -- often by a single vote. Even the decision to uphold health care reform, in which Chief Justice John Roberts joined Sotomayor and the three other moderates on the court, would not have been as close as it was if the Court had not moved steadily to the right.
November's presidential election will be a turning point for the Supreme Court. The next president will likely have the chance to nominate at least one Supreme Court justice, setting the course of the Court for decades to come. President Obama has shown his priorities in his picks of Justice Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan.
Mitt Romney has a very different vision for the Supreme Court. Campaigning in Puerto Rico earlier this year, Romney bashed Sotomayor -- who also happens to be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and the Court's third woman ever. Instead, he says he'd pick more justices like Thomas, Alito and Antonin Scalia, the core of the right-wing bloc whose decisions are systematically rolling back Americans' hard-won rights. He used to say that he'd pick more Justices like Chief Justice Roberts, but changed his mind when Roberts ruled in favor of the health care reform plan similar to the one that Romney himself had helped pilot in Massachusetts.
So who would Romney pick for the Supreme Court? We've gotten a hint from his choice of former judge Robert Bork as his campaign's judicial advisor. Bork's brand of judicial extremism was so out of step with the mainstream that a bipartisan majority of the Senate rejected his nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987. Bork objected to the part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that desegregated lunch counters; he defended state laws banning birth control and "sodomy"; he was unabashedly in favor of censorship; he once ruled that a corporation could order its female employees to be sterilized or be fired. And, though it might not seem possible, since his confirmation battle Bork has gotten even more extreme.
Any justice appointed by Romney would likely fall in the footsteps of Bork in undermining workers' rights, eliminating civil rights protections, siding with corporations over the rights of individuals, threatening women's reproductive freedom, and rolling back basic LGBT rights. President Obama, on the other hand, has promised to pick more justices who share the constitutional values of Justice Sotomayor.
Three years into the term of Justice Sotomayor, the Court hangs in the balance. It's important that we all know the stakes.