Supremes take another whack at campaign reforms

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By Hal Rhodes

“This deeply flawed Supreme Court decision continues down a path that equates money with speech and corporations with people.”
Thus did New Mexico’s United States Sen. Martin Heinrich’s react to the high court’s McCutcheon v. FEC 5-4 decision earlier this month that pounded another nail in the coffin of this nation’s campaign finance reform laws.
Taken in tandem with the court’s 2010 ruling Citizens United (also by a 5-4 decision), practically all significant laws passed in recent years calculated to rein in the billion dollar orgy of campaign money with which corporations and big moneyed interests contrive to buy and sell influence in Congress and state Houses across the land are kaput.
As presently composed, five of the nine members of whom the Supreme Court consists are rigidly conservative, as that term is generally construed today. That same group of five justices is routinely activist, bent on interpreting the laws they are called upon to adjudicate in ways other than originally intended and sometimes even contrary to intentions.
It is this predilection of the current court majority that Sen. Heinrich critiques when he decries the equating of money with speech and corporations with people.
Through some dicey, if not duplicitous, word play the five conservative activists on the court argue that corporations and people are basically one in the same. And since people in this country are entitled to freedom of speech, any limits on the amount of money they are able to spend for the purpose of electing individuals or subsidizing political parties is a limitation on freedom of speech.
Big corporations and wealthy interests can spend whatever it takes to accomplish their ends, the five justices would have us believe. Nor is anything or any law calculated to curb their pursuits constitutionally permissible.
It’s a simple (and simplistic) formula: Corporations are people; people are constitutionally entitled to speak their minds; money is a principal means for many among us to speak their minds; therefore, to curb the amount of money persons-qua-corporations and other large interest can spend for the purpose of speaking their minds is unconstitutional.
It flies in the face of reason as most of us think about these things.
But the court is the final arbiter of our laws, including the U.S. Constitution.
Nowhere in the Constitution is that doctrine expressly articulated. In fact, throughout much of our history as a Republic many legal scholars have argued that the court has no such authority.
Since 1803, however, when then-Chief Justice John Marshall invoked a jumble of circumlocution and logic to strike down an act of Congress as “unconstitutional,” the doctrine of judicial review has made the Supreme Court the last word and, in some respects, the most powerful branch of our national government.
Nor are Democrats, such as Martin Heinrich, alone in lamenting the current high court majority’s fervid use of judicial review in its war on laws intended to reform campaign finance in this country.
John McCain, the Arizona senator who was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, describes himself as “disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision” in the McCutcheon case.
Said McCain, “I predict that as a result of recent court decisions there will be scandals involving corrupt public officials and unlimited, anonymous campaign contributions that will force the system to be reformed once again.”
For that to happen, New Mexico Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall thinks the Constitution itself must be reformed and has proposed a constitutional amendment expressly granting Congress the authority to pass campaign finance reform.
Sen. Heinrich supports such a measure.
The irony is: Such an amendment would effectively render the court’s Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings unconstitutional.