FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Sammy the Mouth Alito

by CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI

It seemed rude, but Sammy was just coming to the defense of a colleague. It happened during the State of the Union address when Sammy mouthed the words “Not true” in response to the President’s comments about a recently decided U.S. Supreme Court case. Johnny was still smarting, insofar as a Chief Justice of the United States ever smarts, from the fact that that decision demonstrated that when testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing, he had his fingers crossed.

One of the issues that concerned some of the senators during that hearing was whether Judge Roberts’s ideology would cause him to ignore the established principle of stare decisis that says courts should give great weight to judicial precedent and be slow to overturn established law. The reasons for the rule were best expressed by Judge Roberts himself when in response to questions from Senator Arlen Specter he said:

“I do think that it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent. Precedent plays an important role in promoting stability and evenhandedness. It is not enough — and the court has emphasized this on several occasions — it is not enough that you may think the prior decision was wrongly decided. That really doesn’t answer the question, it just poses the question.

And you do look at these other factors, like settled expectations, like the legitimacy of the court, like whether a particular precedent is workable or not, whether a precedent has been eroded by subsequent developments. All of those factors go into the determination of whether to revisit a precedent under the principles of stare decisis. . . . If a[n] overruling of a prior precedent is a jolt to the legal system, it is inconsistent with principles of stability. . . . [T]he principles of stare decisis recognize that there are situations when that’s a price that has to be paid.”

On January 21, 2010, in the case of Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, the Chief Justice was part of the 5 person majority that overruled decades of established law to find that the law limiting corporate expenditures in political campaigns is unconstitutional even though, as Justice Stevens observed in his dissent, the Court had adequate grounds to rule in favor of the plaintiffs without holding the statute unconstitutional. Mindful of his senate testimony, the Chief Justice wrote a 14-page mea culpa (in legal parlance called a concurring opinion) explaining why his vote to overrule earlier cases did not overrule his testimony before the U.S. Senate. What was notable about the Chief Justice’s concurring opinion was not so much what he wrote as to how it came to be written.

Citizens was first argued before the Supreme Court in March, 2009 and a decision was expected by late June. Instead, on June 29th the Court announced that it had set the case for reargument one month before its regular fall term was to begin and set a schedule for the filing of briefs. It said that it wanted the hear argument on the very issues that the parties had stipulated were not being presented to the Court. It asked the parties to advise it whether it should overrule either or both of two prior rulings on campaign finance law.

Justice Stevens observes in his 94 page dissent that the parties had agreed that neither side was attacking the constitutionality of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 insofar as it prevented corporations from making independent expenditures for speech that is an “electioneering communication” or that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate.

Commenting on the procedural issues, Justice Stevens said that although there was initially a “facial challenge to the constitutionality of Section 203 [of the Act]” . . . . [i]n its motion for summary judgment . . . Citizens United expressly abandoned its facial challenge. . . and the parties stipulated to the dismissal of that claim.” He observes that the Court typically does not anticipate a question of constitutional law in advance of the necessity of deciding it nor formulate a rule of constitutional law broader than is required by the precise fact to which it is to be applied.

Only time will tell whether Citizens will open the monetary floodgates to corporate involvement in political campaigns since corporations can now make independent expenditures in support of candidates or parties. What no one can debate is that by joining the members of the Court who said the case should be reframed and reargued so that the Court could overrule earlier decisions, the Chief Justice made a mockery of his statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Not that it matters. He now is where he wanted to be and no one can touch him.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado. He can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 26, 2017
Richard Moser
Empire Abroad, Empire At Home
Stan Cox
For Climate Justice, It’s the 33 Percent Who’ll Have to Pick Up the Tab
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Machine Called Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
The Dilemma for Intelligence Agencies
Christy Rodgers
Remaining Animal
Joseph Natoli
Facts, Opinions, Tweets, Words
Mel Gurtov
No Exit? The NY Times and North Korea
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Women on the Move: Can Three Women and a Truck Quell the Tide of Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse?
Michael J. Sainato
Trump’s Wikileaks Flip-Flop
Manuel E. Yepe
North Korea’s Antidote to the US
Kim C. Domenico
‘Courting Failure:’ the Key to Resistance is Ending Animacide
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Legacy of Lynne Stewart, the People’s Lawyer
Andrew Stewart
The People vs. Bernie Sanders
Daniel Warner
“Vive La France, Vive La République” vs. “God Bless America”
April 25, 2017
Russell Mokhiber
It’s Impossible to Support Single-Payer and Defend Obamacare
Nozomi Hayase
Prosecution of Assange is Persecution of Free Speech
Robert Fisk
The Madder Trump Gets, the More Seriously the World Takes Him
Giles Longley-Cook
Trump the Gardener
Bill Quigley
Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing
Jack Random
Little Fingers and Big Egos
Stanley L. Cohen
Dissent on the Lower East Side: the Post-Political Condition
Stephen Cooper
Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!
Michael J. Sainato
Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?
David Swanson
The F-35 and the Incinerating Ski Slope
Binoy Kampmark
Mike Pence in Oz
Peter Paul Catterall
Green Nationalism? How the Far Right Could Learn to Love the Environment
George Wuerthner
Range Riders: Making Tom Sawyer Proud
Clancy Sigal
It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues
Robert K. Tan
Abe is Taking Japan Back to the Bad Old Fascism
April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
Robert Hunziker
America’s Tale of Two Cities, Redux
David Jaffe
The Republican Party and the ‘Lunatic Right’
John Davis
No Tomorrow or Fashion-Forward
Patrick Cockburn
Treating Mental Health Patients as Criminals
Jack Dresser
An Accelerating Palestine Rights Movement Faces Uncertain Direction
George Wuerthner
Diet for a Warming Planet
Lawrence Wittner
Why Is There So Little Popular Protest Against Today’s Threats of Nuclear War?
Colin Todhunter
From Earth Day to the Monsanto Tribunal, Capitalism on Trial
Paul Bentley
Teacher’s Out in Front
Franklin Lamb
A Post-Christian Middle East With or Without ISIS?
Kevin Martin
We Just Paid our Taxes — are They Making the U.S. and the World Safer?
Erik Mears
Education Reformers Lowered Teachers’ Salaries, While Promising to Raise Them
Binoy Kampmark
Fleeing the Ratpac: James Packer, Gambling and Hollywood
Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail