Citizens United Must Be Reversed

In 2010, five Republican appointees on the U.S. Supreme
Court in the Citizens United decision opened the floodgates to secret,
corporate and special interest campaign contributions.  These five
justices made the specious claim that money is speech.  This finding can
be found nowhere in the written text of the Constitution.  These five
unelected justices in Washington threw out decades of settled law on campaign
finance and imposed their own, new dysfunctional system by judicial fiat.

The five justices who constituted the majority in Citizens
United claim to be “originalists” who are channeling the Founding
Fathers.  This claim is utterly nonsensical since the Founding Fathers
were opposed to the wealthy few dominating political and economic life in America.
That’s why they decided to break with Great Britain in 1776.  These
justices were simply using this bogus theory to advance their own political
agenda.

The genesis of what will go down in history as one of the
Supreme Court’s worst decisions  was the appointment of John Roberts and
Samuel Alito in 2005. Those appointments changed the balance of power on the
Court and moved it much further to the right. The replacement of the centrist
Justice Sandra O’Connor by the staunchly conservative Samuel Alito has had
profound effects on the law.

A big shift to the right on the Court was neither expected
from nor promised by then D.C. Circuit Judge John Roberts in 2005. At his
confirmation hearings, Roberts promised to be a moderate and honor existing
precedent. As he told the Senators: “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t
make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical.
They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody
ever went to a ball game to see the umpire… I will remember that it’s my job
to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”

As it turned out, Roberts broke that promise and has since
made several decisions that have tilted the playing field heavily in favor of
the GOP and the wealthy. (The former five member conservative majority
authorized discriminatory voter suppression laws and gutted the Voting Rights
Act.) In this 2010 Citizens United decision, Roberts skillfully engineered a
5-4 straight party line majority that has made it possible for the wealthy to
donate unlimited funds to so-called Super PACs and keep those donations secret.

The rise of the secret, billionaire and corporate donor
allowed by Citizens United has had a significant impact on what the Congress
actually considers.  Since the GOP took control of the Congress in the
2014 elections, there have been no votes on a minimum wage increase or any
middle class jobs bills.  Instead, the Republicans – including all four
members of Nebraska’s Republican Congressional delegation – have voted to
repeal the estate tax and for $300 billion in deficit financed corporate and
special interest tax cuts.

A 2014 study from Princeton University has evaluated the
impact of our new court imposed campaign finance system on the federal
government.  This study concluded that the U.S. is no longer an actual
democracy.  Instead, we are an oligarchy.  According to this study:
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites
and organized groups representing business interests have substantial
independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups
and average citizens have little or no independent influence…When a majority
of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests,
they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into
the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour
policy change, they generally do not get it.”

We have seen the impact of the Citizens United decision here
in Nebraska in both 2014 and 2016.  In 2014, super PACs supporting Ben
Sasse ran a series of dishonest and secretly funded television
advertisements that poisoned the primary process and unfairly trashed Sid
Dinsdale and Shane Osborn.  As Don Walton of the Journal Star aptly
stated: “It seems increasingly clear that the old problem of the
uninformed voter has transformed into the new problem of the misinformed voter,
who has been manipulated and misled by a deluge of half-truths and mis-truths
not only during this campaign, but has been subjected to a lot of that every
day.”

In the current election cycle, Governor Pete Ricketts and
shadowy groups financed by the Koch brothers probably spent hundreds of
thousands of dollars in the May primaries in an attempt to purge five incumbent
Senators who had thwarted his extreme agenda.  Democratic incumbents Sue
Crawford and Rick Kolowski, as well as three moderate Republicans, were hit
with a blizzard of dishonest mailings, robo-calls and radio ads.  Well
informed sources at the Unicameral told me that the voters in one of the
targeted districts were hit with 10 to 15 negative mailings dishonestly
attacking the incumbent Senator.

We Democrats have it in our power to make history and reverse
the Supreme Court’s infamous 2010 campaign finance decision.  As we all
know, conservative Justice Antonin Scala passed away earlier this year leaving
the Court with eight members.  Since he passed away, the Supreme Court has
rejected right wing challenges to affirmative action, women’s health care
choices and the rights of union members to participate in the political
process.

The next President may appoint as many as four new Justices.
As Justice Ruth Bader Gingsburg recently said about a possible Trump
Presidency’s impact on the high court: “I don’t want to think about that
possibility, but if it should be, then everything is up for grabs… It’s
likely that the next president, whoever she will be, will have a few
appointments to make.”

What that means is that we Democrats have a huge opportunity
this fall.  It is likely that the Democratic nominee will be elected
President.  Moreover, the Democrats are favored to regain control of the
U.S. Senate.  A Democratic victory this year would give us the opportunity
to reshape the future of the U.S. Supreme Court for decades.  We could end
up with first Progressive majority on the Supreme Court since the early 1970s.
The stakes couldn’t be higher this fall.  We need to get it done.  We
will get it done!