After Citizens United the New York Times exploded:
“The Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the Robber Baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to win elections.”
The late historian Howard Zinn put the matter in perspective:
“No one can stop us from getting on a soapbox and speaking. We might reach 100 people that way. But if we were Proctor and Gamble, which makes the soapbox, we could buy prime time for TV commercials and buy full-page ads in newspapers, reaching several million. How much freedom we have depends on how much money we have.”
Two conservative nonprofits, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies and Americans for Prosperity, have already poured $60 million into TV ads to influence the 2012 presidential outcome--and the election is still two and one-half months away.
The $60 million dwarfs the amount spent by all super PACs put together. Nonprofits don’t have to disclose their sources. Super PACs do.
The dark hand of GOP Svengali Karl Rove is pushing Crossroads. Americans for Prosperity is funded by the billionaires David and Charles Koch.
A new book by Christopher Hayes, “Twilight of the Elites,” is even more disturbing.
“While the logic of democracy is one person, one vote, our entire system of representation heavily favors those with the money,” Hayes writes.
Money grants access to the powerful. Money pays for lobbyists, PACs and hefty political donations.
Money enables the hiring of power attorneys who manipulate the tax code to allow “oligarchs to keep scores of billions from the IRS.” Politicians, too, are in cahoots with the One Percenters. The Bush tax cuts granted the rich $82 billion. President Obama, alas, extended them.
Citizens United is just one of many horrible rulings by the Supreme Court. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) the court upheld Southern apartheid.
In Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886), the headnote to the official report, written by the court reporter, declared that corporations were people and entitled to constitutional rights. The justices did not say that.
In another reactionary decision, Lochner v. New York (1905), the court reversed a legislative limit of a 10-hour day and 60-hour week for bakers.
Justice Rufus Peckham, writing for a 5-4 majority, outrageously declared that such statutes “limiting the hours in which grown and intelligent men may labor to earn their living are mere meddlesome interference with the rights of the individual.”
Justice Harlan I dissented, rightly complaining that employer and employee are not on equal footing. Bosses have the upper hand. Always have. Always will.
In 1895 the Supreme Court voided a congressional income tax law. The vote was 5-4 with five wealthy justices killing it.
The court in Schenck (1919) ruled that harmless leaflets were a “clear and present danger” to national security under the 1917 Espionage Act. The absurdity was manifest. Yet ever since the court has nearly always taken the side of purported national security.
In Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923), the court invalidated a minimum wage for women workers in the District of Columbia. Justice George Sutherland said it was “simply and exclusively a price-fixing law.”
In dissent, Chief Justice William Taft pointed out that employees “are particularly subject to the overreaching of the harsh and greedy employer.”
In another terrible ruling, the Supreme Court in 2000 upheld the right of Big Tobacco to advertise cigarettes, a product that kills 500,000 Americans yearly. Corporate freedom and the merchants of death prevailed over the health of Americans.
The historic pro-business bias of the court is obvious. From 1880 to 1937, historian Henry Steele Commager noted, “the political field was strewn with the corpses of social welfare laws struck down by judicial weapons.” In the early 1930s the court repealed the progressive New Deal.
Justice Samuel Miller, Iowan who served on the court from 1862 to 1890, summed up reality:
“It is vain to contend with judges who have been, at the bar, the advocates of railroad companies and all the forms of associated capital when they are called on to decide cases. All their training, all their feelings, are in favor of those who need no such influence.”
And that is precisely why Earl Warren was the greatest chief justice. He put people over property, human needs over the money-making demands of capitalism.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.