Thursday, January 21, 2010

More important than the 2nd Amendment

Here is another clear example of how Supreme Court decisions undermine the democratic process[1]:

The Supreme Court threw out a 63-year-old law designed to restrain the influence of big business and unions on elections Thursday, ruling that corporations may spend as freely as they like to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress. . . .

The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking for the four other conservative justices, had the audacity to characterize the thin framework of campaign finance regulation in this country as "censorship" that was "vast in its reach." Let me try to understand this reasoning: Setting up a framework to keep multi-billion dollar corporations from literally purchasing their candidates of choice is censorship, but ignoring voting irregularities in Florida in the 2000 presidential election is not censorship, somehow.

I agree with Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote in his dissent Thursday that "The court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation." It is precisely these kinds of Supreme Court decisions that erode the fundamental meaning of "democracy." This decision fosters and perpetuates inequality by eroding even the thin veil of illusion that elections in this country are open, fair, and representative. Because corporations are considered legal entities, they are afforded access to the election system that is equal to any citizen of this country. To put it in stark terms: The Supreme Court has just ruled that multi-billion dollar corporation Wal*Mart has the same right to contribute to election campaigns as the single mother of two children living in poverty and receiving food stamps. It takes no specialist in political science to see that this "equality" is, in fact, state-sanctioned egregious inequality.

This kind of Supreme Court decision is vastly more relevant than any kind of restriction on Second Amendment rights, yet will likely not receive anywhere near the public outcry that, say, an attempt to remove the "gun show loophole." It is more relevant because a political system open only to the rich will establish policies and influence media representations to perpetuate this restrictive system, and the fact that there are tens of thousands of people scattered throughout the country with white-knuckled grip on their pistols and rifles, concerned only with protecting their selves and small fiefdoms, will matter not a whit -- particularly if these gun owners are convinced to continue to vote to support the system because the media they receive about elections is not balanced in any meaningful way by a functional campaign finance reform structure.

[1] Others include: Plessy v. Ferguson (1896); Texas' 2003 congressional redistricting plan; and, of course, Bush v. Gore (2000).



  1. Those "concerned only with protecting their selves and small fiefdoms.." are, for the most part, the ones who will be protecting the people who are now making such accusations should our country come to the state that it seems to be rapidly approaching. Those with guns, of course, include most of the people who love you!
    :-) I do agree with your points about this atrocious Supreme Court decision. So long as we pay so little attention to the people we allow into power to appoint these "Justices" we will continue to see our constitutional rights diminished.

  2. Further commentary:

    Richard L. Hasen, "Money Grubbers: The Supreme Court kills campaign finance reform," Jan. 21, 2010.

    NPR Talk of the Nation program, Jan. 21, 2010, "Supreme Court Lifts Campaign Spending Limits."

  3. Grace, my point is that gun rights are window dressing when people don't live in a functioning, open, democracy, and unregulated corporate access to elections is a symptom of a dysfunctional electoral process that erodes democracy. The corporate state doesn't need to confront gun owners in some epic, direct, conflict when it controls the electoral process and the airwaves; citizens who do or do not own guns will be equally disenfranchised de facto if not de jure when they're being manipulated by large corporate financial reserves.

    Another point I was trying to make -- and this will be a separate post one of these days -- is that protection of freedoms to access and disseminate information is more fundamental to a functioning democracy than protection of access to firearms. Two broad cases that support this point: 1) the Civil Rights movement relied predominantly on non-violent, direct action and dissemination of information, news accounts, etc., to achieve its successes; 2) all the guns and bombs that saturate Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia provide those countries with very little in the way of stability, civil rights, security, etc.

    All this being said, I'm not advocating that law-abiding American citizens not be allowed to possess firearms. So, if anyone else comments on this thread, s/he can't assert otherwise.

  4. Newt Gingrich is absolutely wrong: Today's SCOTUS decision to gut campaign finance laws will not benefit "the middle class"; Gingrich is just using this argument as a simplistic ideological appeal.

  5. Elizabeth Pratt and Carol Cushman, "Campaign finance reform: good for Portland, good for the nation," Oregonian Jan. 22, 2010, p. B7.

    The link above provides some interesting insight into this issue, to wit:

    "Portland, however, is a national leader in that reform after adopting public campaign financing in 2005, a reform strategy that's gaining momentum at the federal level. Called Voter-Owned Elections in Portland and the Fair Elections Now Act in Washington, D.C., the basic concept is the same. The reform system emphasizes small-donor fundraising and provides limited public support to put typical folks on equal footing with corporate interests in funding candidate campaigns." [Italics mine]

  6. Michael Waldman, "Supreme Court's radical ruling may be start of epic power struggle," Oregonian, Jan. 24, 2010, p. D5.

    "For starters, the court boldly reached to consider a major constitutional case when it didn't have to. The case itself addressed an arcane issue . . . The justices easily could have ruled on narrow statutory grounds."

    ". . . it shows an unsettling eagerness to overturn precedent in line with ideological predilection."

  7. Ruth Marcus, "Campaign financing: The high court's intellectual dishonesty," Oregonian Jan. 23, 2010.

    "In opening the floodgates for corporate money in election campaigns, the Supreme Court did not simply engage in a brazen power grab. It did so in an opinion stunning in its intellectual dishonesty."

  8. James:

    Well, at least I gave you an opening to more clearly define what you were NOT saying about guns and gun ownership. :-)

    Following the Sept.11, 2001 attack on the US, I published an online editorial about what I expected would happen to our "rights" as US citizens. It's lengthy so I won't copy it all, but it is on my website. Sadly, I report that what I suspected...and coming true.

    "....We have important questions to ask ourselves. These questions must be asked, and answered, not only for the preservation of our own rights and jobs, but for the generations to come. There are different kinds of freedom. Right now we are terrified of what happened, and what could still happen. But the loss of life, no matter how devastating and horrific, will pale in comparison if we let this become a runaway train loaded with the precious freedoms for which our ancestors gave their lives. How will we answer our great-grandchildren when they ask, 'Where were you when America lost her freedom?'" (Sept. 2001)

    Keep sharing your thoughts, James. We have to find a way to get people to pay attention.

  9. I look forward to engaging more people on the issue of the Second Amendment; I purposely formulated this post title to be contentious (*wink wink!*).

    Regarding the efficacy of sharing my thoughts through this blog, this website has an interesting commentary on blogging: "Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few."

  10. Great Philosophy Talk show on this topic: "The Corporation as a Person," June 20, 2010.

    Related PT blog comments here.