What 2016 means for the Supreme Court’s path on money in politics
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Eleven years ago this month, the Senate confirmed John Roberts to the Supreme Court. With the addition of Roberts and, a few months, later Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court made a sharp rightward shift that has had enormous implications for the rights of everyday Americans and the state of our democracy.

 

From a decision striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act to a ruling paving the way for unlimited corporate political spending, the high court has issued over 165 closely-divided 5-4 decisions since Roberts and Alito became justices, many of which have undermined our rights and weakened our democracy.

 

In November, voters will decide on the future of the Supreme Court: whether we will continue on the path set by justices like Roberts and Alito, or whether future Supreme Court justices will be mainstream jurists who understand that the Constitution is for all Americans, both rich and poor, both privileged and marginalized. When we cast our votes for president, it will also be “Judgment Day” for our nation’s highest court.

 

Perhaps no issue better illustrates what’s at stake than the issue of money in politics. In recent years the Roberts-Alito Court has been eagerly bulldozing common-sense rules about campaign finance, from ruling that corporations have the “right” to spend unlimited money influencing our elections to allowing wealthy individual donors to give eye-popping sums of money to candidates, parties, and PACs.

 

With these decisions, the Court has dramatically narrowed the definition of “corruption” from a broader understanding that included concerns like undue influence to a definition that only includes “quid pro quo” corruption — in other words, outright bribery.

 

Moreover, the current Court is closed to an understanding of other rationales for campaign finance legislation that are rooted, as Justice Breyer said in his dissent in McCutcheon v. FEC, “in the constitutional effort to create a democracy responsive to the people — a government where laws reflect the very thoughts, views, ideas, and sentiments, the expression of which the First Amendment protects.”

 

As such the Supreme Court has made it harder and harder to put reasonable limits on money in elections. What voters are left with is an out-of-balance campaign finance system that allows wealthy special interests to dominate our elections while ordinary Americans struggle to be heard.

 

In future years, our big money in politics crisis could get better — or it could get even worse — depending on what Americans decide on November 8.

 

That’s because it is nearly inevitable that the next president will nominate multiple Supreme Court justices. With new justices, the stage could be set for a new money-in-politics jurisprudence: one rooted in the idea that protecting a democracy responsive to the people is a compelling rationale for rules on money in elections.

 

Alternatively, we could have more of the same: additional ultra-conservative jurists who reliably favor the interests of huge corporations and the powerful above those of “We the People.”

 

Looking at the commitments Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNo Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way The dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE have made about the Supreme Court makes plain the kind of justices each would nominate. Clinton has promised to name justices who “value people’s right to vote over billionaires’ rights to buy elections.” Trump, on the other hand, said he would delegate his selection of Supreme Court nominees to a right-wing group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.

 

And the fact that Trump tapped the president of Citizens United to be his deputy campaign manager doesn’t inspire much confidence that his Supreme Court picks would be looking out for everyday Americans.

 

We know that the next president will be shaping the direction of the Supreme Court on issues like money in politics, possibly for generations to come. But what we don’t know yet is what that direction will be.

 

We could have SupremeCourt justices who understand that the Constitution is meant to safeguard the rights of all Americans — or we could have justices who protect the interests of the most wealthy and powerful among us at the expense of everyone else.

 

Ultimately, that decision rests in the hands of voters.

 

Marge Baker is the executive vice president of People For the American Way. 


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