It is often the case that a person’s heartfelt beliefs are eventually revealed inadvertently despite their best efforts at masking their true intentions and motivations for their actions with questionable excuses. Politicians are notorious for pretending their support for policies and agendas are in the best interests of their constituency even though their special interests are always the primary, and often only, beneficiaries. Republicans have spent the past thirty perfecting the ploy of convincing their monumentally stupid base that taking everything from the poor and middle class and giving it to the wealthy will benefit the entire population. It is very seldom, if ever, that any Republican purposely admits in public that their raison d’être is solely to serve the interests of corporations and the very richest Americans, and it is doubtful they expected the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to expose their badly-kept secret, but he did; albeit inadvertently.
In a case before the High Court, Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, to decide on whether the state of Florida has the right to “prohibit judges and judicial candidates from personally soliciting funds for their campaigns,” the Court ruled in favor of the state on Wednesday by a vote of 5-4. The close vote swung on Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the liberal justices in upholding a semblance of campaign finance limitation and the influence of money in politics. It is stunning that there is a line that Roberts seems unwilling to cross when it comes to money in politics, but it was a victory, albeit a “symbolically important” one, for Americans who believe there is already too much money controlling how Americans are governed. However, Roberts’ opinion for the majority revealed the conservatives’ true belief and motivation in the highly unpopular Citizens United decision conservatives ruled was a matter of freedom of speech for legal entities known as corporations, and not giving power over the government to the rich.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion for the majority in Williams-Yulee, and if he had joined conservatives and struck down the limit on judges and judicial candidates’ fundraising ability, America’s judicial system would be forever polluted and judges would have free reign to solicit campaign money directly from corporate and criminal defense lawyers who practice before them. What is telling about Roberts’ writing the opinion is that he contends that judges have a special duty to remain neutral and unbiased for the good of all the people; something he claims is completely inappropriate and inherently wrong-headed for presidents, legislators, and governors. Roberts’ inadvertent admission is that politicians have an intrinsic duty to serve the interests of their biggest donors and not their constituents; it is the true premise and only motivation for the High Court’s conservative majority ruling in Citizens United. It is also likely something Roberts did not intend to expose, although even that is debatable in the Koch-oligarch era of American politics.
Although it appeared that all of the Court’s conservatives believe campaign finance laws and regulations have outlived their relevance in American politics, Roberts agreed with liberals that “States may regulate judicial elections differently than they regulate political elections, because the role of judges differs from the role of politicians. Politicians are expected to be responsive to the preferences of their supporters. Indeed, such responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials. The same is not true of judges. In deciding cases, a judge is not to provide any special consideration to his campaign donors. Our precedents applying the First Amendment to political elections have little bearing on the issues here.”
It is interesting, and telling, that Roberts was seemingly careful to cite the Court’s application of the First Amendment in Citizens United as if no-one would notice his assertion that “politicians are expected to be responsive to their supporters,” not constituents, “as a key to the concept of self-governance.” When politicians are responsive to their wealthy donors, the only concept of self-governance relates to the rich and corporations dictating governance purely for their self-interests and the rest of the population be damned. That is what the conservative court, and its Koch brother masters, intended in granting “First Amendment” rights to corporations and the one-percent of the population Republicans are “expected to be responsive to;” something Republicans have fulfilled with due diligence since the Citizens United ruling.
It is no surprise that Republicans have dutifully been “obedient” to the narrowest segment of the population as a result of Citizens United, and although Roberts revealed that was the conservative Court’s sole intent, Justice Kennedy in writing for the majority at least put it in less obvious terms and had the brains to mention the voters. He wrote that, of course “favoritism and influence are unavoidable in a representative democracy,” and went on to suggest there was sometimes a positive good. He continued that “It is well understood that a substantial and legitimate reason, if not the only reason, to cast a vote for, or to make a contribution to, one candidate over another is that the candidate will respond by producing those political outcomes the supporter favors. Democracy is premised on responsiveness.”
Chief Justice Roberts was writing very specifically about money informing responsiveness in delineating limitations between campaign finance rules for judges and politicians. He did not even mention voters and particularly differentiated between a judge, “who is not to provide any special consideration to his campaign donors” and politicians who are “expected to be responsive to the preferences of their supporters;” not voters, not the public, and certainly not constituents. It is exactly what Republicans have done without reservation since the conservative Court did what it was expected and “provided very special consideration to its supporters,” the Koch brothers and Mitch McConnell who was the driving force behind the Citizens United lawsuit against the Federal Elections Commission in the first place.
Obviously, most Americans expect judges to be impartial and not “follow the preferences of their supporters” or give “undue consideration to their campaign donors.” As the ScotusBlog noted, the Court’s ruling is unlikely to convince many Americans that the judicial system is suddenly going to be completely impartial, but the ruling was a hedge against corporations and the rich buying judgements the way the Kochs are buying politicians and legislation. It is actually the case that most Americans do not agree with Roberts or his fellow Koch-conservatives and believe that politicians, like judges, should not be allowed to solely “follow the preferences of” or give “special consideration” to their wealthy donors. However, Citizens United is the law of the land and it is highly unlikely Republicans or their Koch funders will ever allow a constitutional amendment striking it down to gain traction, much less be ratified, and they have the billions to make sure conservatives follow their preferences of strengthening, not ending, Citizens United; precisely as the conservative Court intended.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.