One of the few fun revelations from the trove of Clinton presidential documents released in the last month came from a meeting that took place in the last days of the 42nd president’s time in office.
“Scalia rigged the election for Bush because they had to have control of the judiciary to continue this neutering of the federal government,” Clinton advisor Paul Begala said, according to notes kept by speechwriter Jeff Shesol.
Begala hasn’t taken credit for this comment. But whether he said it or not, I’d guess this master communicator would be dismayed by how prophetic that thought was.
George W. Bush wasn’t able to get his personal lawyer Harriet Miers confirmed to the nation’s highest court. But by replacing William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Connor with John Roberts and Samuel Alito, the 43rd president enabled a series of 5-4 decisions that have rapidly transformed our republic in favor of corporations.
The Minnesota Law Review looked at the voting records of all the people who have sat on the Court for the last 65 years and found that the two justices most likely to vote in favor of business are — you guessed it — Roberts and Alito. In exchange for helping Bush win the presidency, Scalia got two justices even more eager than himself to gnaw away at the ability of the government to temper the power of monied interests.
“You follow this pro-corporate trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business,” Elizabeth Warren said last year.
And with every decision, the Court looks more and more like a franchisee of Koch Industries.
This week, the Court ruled on McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), a case that considered whether or not a rich donor’s rights were being limited by being allowed to give “only” a total of $3.5 million in one election, because of the remaining limits placed on the number of federal candidates one donor can “support.”
But think about how much money is being spent on all the elections! Justice Antonin Scalia argued.
“When you add all that — add — when you add all that up, I don’t think $3.5 million is a heck of a lot of money,” he said in the oral arguments last year.
The average engineer, with a four-year undergraduate degree and a professional graduate degree, will earn $3.5 million — in a lifetime.
In what world does fairness require that one person be able to spend more “speech” in one election than our most highly trained workers will earn in four decades of work?
How about a post-Citizens United world, where corporations and unions can contribute to SuperPACs with a limit of “Whatever the f*ck they want,” as The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart noted.
And guess who created this post-Citizens United world?
George W. Bush’s Supreme Court, of course.
“The Court’s conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election, but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination,” The Nation’s Ari Berman noted.
Since 1965, states where minorities had historically been denied the vote had to seek approval from the federal government for any changes to voting laws, due to the Voting Rights Act. The five conservative justices ruled this provision, which was approved in 2006 by a Republican president and Congress, was no longer valid, even though in the two years prior to this decision, 8 of the 11 states in the Old Confederacy had passed restrictive voting laws.
So more “speech” for the richest and fewer protections for those who have the least say in their own destiny — that’s what happens when you neuter the federal government. It’s as if the lesson of the Iraq War, housing bubble and financial crisis was that the richest Americans don’t have enough power.
Someone who can donate more than $3.5 million in a single election is in the top 1 percent of the 1 percent, a group that has quintupled its income share in the last 40 years of conservative economics.
Yet some in the top 0.1 percent feel that the ability to make it rain on their favorite politicians is the only way to combat a public that’s waking up to the massive transfer of “speech” that’s been made to a tiny group of Americans.
The CEO of Home Depot recently threatened the pope for talking about income equality, before comparing his own “plight” to what Jews experienced in Nazi Germany in 1933, when laws prohibited them from pursuing certain careers.
His “speech” is not being heard enough, or America wouldn’t be doing terrible things like cutting the uninsured by at least 5.4 million in just a few months.
Despite this victory for the middle class on health care, the richest 1 percent have enjoyed 95 percent of the benefits of the post-crisis recovery. And since 2010, the politics of cutting — jobs, unemployment insurance, food stamps — has prevailed.
George W. Bush may have waged two failed invasions and left America’s economy in the worst shape since the Great Depression. But his one success was leaving a Supreme Court that’s determined to win the class war for the richest .01 percent.