The Rant

| March 18, 2010
Supreme Court justice John Roberts
Supreme Court justice John Roberts

Chief Justice John Roberts is a sanctimonious jackalope. Oh, I'm sorry. Am I in contempt of court? The Supreme Court is deserving of the most supreme contempt for their recent ruling opening the floodgates of unlimited corporate cash into the political system. As if it weren't bad enough already, with a dozen lobbyists for every legislator in Congress, now the richest corporations can simply buy congressional seats and slip their personal lackeys directly into the office. This bypasses all that pesky business about representative democracy and allows the financial markets to speak. Welcome to the United Corporate States of America, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Peoples' Republic of China.

The court's decision, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, passed on a 5-4 vote along strictly partisan lines, showing what 20 years worth of Reagan-Bush appointees will get you: judges so "business friendly" they are willing to protect corporate expenditures against the peoples' right to hold free and fair elections.

The First Amendment has long protected the corporation as an "individual" with all the same rights of free speech as a real human, hence that quaint colloquialism "corporate citizen." But this is the first time the court has interpreted "speech" to mean "money." The verdict overrules two precedents restricting campaign spending by corporations and unions, including the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act, and states that limiting corporate spending in advocating for a candidate is "governmental regulation of political speech." The explosion that followed the decision was the sound of champagne corks popping all over K Street in Washington and Madison Avenue in New York.

Among the many legitimate philosophical differences between conservatives and liberals, there is one issue that we can all agree on: The most corrosive and dangerous element in our presently polarized politics is not the filibuster or attack ads or even partisanship. It's money. Cash corrupts the process more than any malfunctioning voting machine, and it creates false perceptions among voters about their candidates. I'll own up to being as gullible as the next guy after being totally fooled by the John Edwards presidential campaign. It's easy for an advertiser to portray a scoundrel as a loving family man if the participants are in on the scam. What's to prevent the NRA, or the health insurance lobby, or Wall Street banks and brokerage firms from hiring Oliver Stone to produce campaign commercials that make Super Bowl ads look like QVC? We'll find out soon enough, in 2012, when we begin electing our public officials, from court clerk to president, like we're voting for the Video Music Awards.

Even after this onerous decision, the "Father Knows Best" automaton known as John Roberts had the temerity to bristle at the criticism that followed, especially from the president during his State of the Union address. Roberts told University of Alabama law students that the president's speech had turned into a "political pep rally," as if that's not what the State of the Union address already is, and wondered if it was appropriate for the justices to even be there. This pomposity comes from a man who might not even be on the court if George W. Bush had succeeded in getting his gushing groupie, Harriet Miers, confirmed. Roberts was up for the seat of Sandra Day O'Connor when William Rhenquist, for whom Roberts served as law clerk, up and croaked, making the new justice not merely another conservative appointee but the leader of the "Roberts Five": Johnny, Sam, Tony, Anton, and Clarence. The conservatives always rail against "activist judges" who "legislate from the bench," until they become the majority and then that's exactly what they do. Campaign contributions are not the same thing as corporate funding. One is free speech; the other is free speech through an expensive megaphone.

Years ago, people of a certain age will remember that leaving Memphis heading north, it was necessary to cross over the Wolf River. The waterway was then the repository for the city's raw sewage, and the odor was so god-awful, it was like a barroom bathroom after a rough weekend. Thanks to advanced filtration technologies and citizen groups like the Wolf River Conservancy, the river today, if not pristine, is a far cleaner place. Such is the current state of our public election system — somewhat polluted but generally passable and reasonably dependable. However, what the Roberts court has done is to remove all the necessary filtering devices and allow the sewage to flow unchecked back into the mainstream of the body politic, and it will take years to reverse the course of the sludge that's rolling in like a special-interest tsunami.

A famous jurist once said in regard to the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that desegregated the public schools: "The court in that case, of course, overruled a prior decision. I don't think that constitutes judicial activism because, obviously, if the decision is wrong, it should be overruled. That's not activism. That's applying the law correctly." That judge's name was John Roberts, who turned out to be just another self-important, middle-aged white dude in a black robe.

Randy Haspel writes the blog "Born-Again Hippies," where a version of this column first appeared.

Comments (29)

Showing 1-25 of 29

Randy, the First Amendment was never intended to protect the free speech of corporations. This is a rather recent development. The problem stems from the concept of corporate citizenship, which is not in the constitution and was specifically warned against by the authors of the constitution.

The key is to strip corporations of their citizenship. Do this and many of our other problems, including money in politics, will disappear. The Roberts court made the correct decision according to the law as currently understood. That doesn't make what they did right, but it does point out that the law itself must first change before the court can reverse its decision. Congress must pass a Constitutional Amendment securing civil rights only to individual human beings and not to collections of individuals.

Which is why it will never happen and can never happen. Congress will never vote to choke off their flow of dirty money.

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Posted by Jeff on 03/18/2010 at 10:05 AM

When I first watched "Idiocracy" I thought it was a stupidly funny movie. Now I see it as prophetic. Tiger Woods 2012!

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Posted by 38103 on 03/18/2010 at 10:27 AM

madison Avenue will have Tiger Woods looking like Family Man of the Year after the Masters. Big story on ESPN: Heckuva Job, Woodsie!

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Posted by Packrat on 03/18/2010 at 11:32 AM

Tiger for President...

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Posted by B on 03/18/2010 at 12:29 PM

I had a friend who once voted for John Warner for the Senate from Virginia just because she thought it meant she'd see Elizabeth Taylor (his wife at the time) hanging out at the mall or something. Not sure why this column made me think of that, but it did.

My friend has since recovered her senses. Everybody's young and stupid sometime.

As a nation, however, we're old enough to know better.

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Posted by B on 03/18/2010 at 12:33 PM

Randy: Again, you are refreshingly accurate. The Robert's response to being exposed to just a bit of the reality of how awful that decision is should be a indication of how "out of the main stream", to use a Jeff Session's pet phrase, this guy is.
He'd rather not actually think anyone is paying any attention because the folks he rubs elbows with are soooo polite to him in his cloistered world. Further, the The Radical Right has wrestled away the banner of the lunitic fringe from the left. This huge parade of folks who march gleefully into the people cruncher of Corporate America amazes me.

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Posted by cbhs65 on 03/18/2010 at 12:56 PM

corporations already pay taxes, as a matter of fact america is 2nd highest in the world in how much we tax our businesses, 2nd to russia, and its about to go up when the bush tax cuts expire...freedom of speech is afforded to all in america is not the press a corporation????

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Posted by genbet1 on 03/18/2010 at 5:05 PM

""...But this is the first time the court has interpreted "speech" to mean "money."


Really? Buckley v. Valeo never happened?

The Supreme Court never ruled that "The First Amendment requires the invalidation of the Act's independent expenditure ceiling, its limitation on a candidate's expenditures from his own personal funds, and its ceilings on over-all campaign expenditures, since those provisions place substantial and direct restrictions on the ability of candidates, citizens, and associations to engage in protected political expression, restrictions that the First Amendment cannot tolerate."...?

Or is Randy once again making up an alternate reality instead of basing his emotions on facts?

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Posted by Powergamz on 03/18/2010 at 7:56 PM

You'll have to argue case law with an attorney since my judicial First Amendment knowledge mostly pertains to journalism, but I did speak with two lawyers before writing this piece, and ended up being only slightly more confused than when I began. I do know viscerally, however, that permitting corporations to spend unlimited funds to influence an election is bad law.
My lawyer pals have informed me that, just like Plessy v Ferguson was overturned by Brown v Board, we must wait for a case with similar issues to come before the court before even attempting to correct this anti-democratic mistake.
But, with five right-wing ideologues in the majority, we may have to wait a long, long time.
I'm Randy Haspel and I approve this message.

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Posted by Sputnik57 on 03/19/2010 at 12:27 AM

Corporate worship should stop. Collective Stockholm syndrome has set in. We are like a bunch of Gollums. My precious will provide for me. My precious feeds me. Oh, what happened, me precious out sourced me. Down with socialism!!

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Posted by 38103 on 03/19/2010 at 7:39 AM

What has it got in its robeses? Thief! Robertses! We Hates It! WE HATES IT FOREVER!

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Posted by Jeff on 03/19/2010 at 8:37 AM

Teddy Roosevelt, can we bring you back for a couple of years and bust up this corporate oligarchy that appears hell-bent on running this country? I don't think even Frodo and his special manservant Samwise could manage to chunk Roberts and his ilk into Mt. Doom.

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Posted by Packrat on 03/19/2010 at 9:01 AM

I don't have to argue case law with anyone. It is a matter of record.

As far as your penchant for arguing with reality, quite frankly I don't believe for a second that 'two lawyers' told you that there was no such past ruling.

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Posted by Powergamz on 03/19/2010 at 11:45 AM

I'm not smart enough to interpret law. Hell, I get confused reading disclaimers. But doesn't doesn't Roberts look a lot like Alfred E. Newman?

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Posted by julie noir on 03/19/2010 at 10:26 PM
Posted by julie noir on 03/19/2010 at 11:13 PM

So this drunk is standing at a bar and every few minutes he yells out, "All lawyers are assholes."
This goes on until one patron had enough and confronted the man saying, "Sir, I resent what you're saying."
The drunk asks, "Why, are you a lawyer?"
"No," the man said, "I'm an asshole."

You call me a liar, I call you a lawyer, let's call the whole thing off.
Randy

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Posted by Sputnik57 on 03/19/2010 at 11:21 PM

The Corporation Tells Me How to Vote. I believe everything I hear and see. Commercials make me vote for Insert candidate here. Unfortunately, most voters (and those that don't vote) are clueless. The entertainment/internet entranced in America has no or little interest in politics. My observation suggests that less than 10% of people that live in Memphis are capable of making an informed decision about any election or political issue. Just ask someone a simple question, like "Who is John Roberts?" Thank you, please drive thru.

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Posted by Thank you, please drive thru. on 03/20/2010 at 12:14 AM

Randy, the differerence is that you can't prove I'm a lawyer. The fact that you think I'm an asshole because I refuse to swallow your falsehoods is simply proof of your bigotry and lock step mentality.


Quit running away from the question....If you have a valid point about corporate donations, why would you need to support it with exaggerated claims that are easily proven to be untrue?

Not only is that dishonest, it is crappy journalism and does more harm than good. The next time some neo-con whips up their followers with the mantra that liberals are liars, they need look no further than Randy Haspel to see the evidence.

As a long time progressive activist who chooses to support my beliefs with facts and hard work, your sleazy approach is not only offensive, it is a betrayal.

With liberals like you, who needs Karl Rowe?

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Posted by Powergamz on 03/20/2010 at 7:57 AM

Since the first Amendment applies to corporations, here's what I want to know: what possible use does a business have for the right to worship? Why does Microsoft or Wal-Mart need the right to go to church on Sundays?

The original intent is pretty clear on this one. The Bill of Rights was made for humans only. No other entity on the planet practices religion.

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Posted by autoegocrat on 03/20/2010 at 9:14 AM

Powergamz, you really are being an asshole. I don't need to see your bar certification to know that.

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Posted by autoegocrat on 03/20/2010 at 9:19 AM

Ego, I don't particulary care what a hatemonger like you thinks.

I'm on record in action and in word as working for decades against racism, against elitism, against fundamentalism, and against ignorance... and not just because I'm a minority myself.
I do it because I believe that once people like you embrace divisiveness and 'win at any cost' attack politics, it really doesn't matter which 'side' they claim to be on.

People like you and Haspel and Alias the Humbug are on record as attacking me for my work on those issues, while hypocritically pretending to pay lip service.
So be it, but if you think you can get me to accede to your more-intolerant-than-thou, 'we can so too outspew the rightwing' agenda by name calling, you are delusional.

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Posted by Powergamz on 03/20/2010 at 12:50 PM

You are not a minority, Gamz. I'm pretty sure being an asshole puts you in the majority category.

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Posted by julie noir on 03/20/2010 at 11:02 PM

Ahhh yes... Nothing like the spectacle of a bunch of bigots enjoying another lynching from behind the safety and comfort of their keyboards. Thanks for letting the hood slip Julie.

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Posted by Powergamz on 03/21/2010 at 2:57 AM

I'd be more than happy to call you an asshole to your face if you'd like.

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Posted by autoegocrat on 03/21/2010 at 4:07 AM

***FUTILE DEBATE RESOLUTION ALERT!!!!***

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Posted by Phlo on 03/21/2010 at 7:53 AM
Showing 1-25 of 29

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