FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Guns, Corruption and PACs: Three Terrible Supreme Court Decisions

Photo by Ian Dick | CC BY 2.0

Russian election meddling, mass shootings, immigration, trade, White House staff changes and sexual misbehavior make daily headlines, while three decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court that pre-date the Trump presidency may have more enduring and destructive impact.

The 2008 Heller decision on guns, the 2016 McDonnell decision on corruption and the 2010 Citizens United case on money in politics directly affect public safety, good governance and our electoral system.  Measured by the damage they continue to inflict on our polity and people, those cases are in my view the three worst judicial decisions of the past decade.  Why so?

District of Columbia v. Heller.  On the face of it, Justice Scalia’s opinion was no big deal.  It merely held that the DC law barring handguns in the home violated the Second Amendment.  Yet its affirmation of an individual right of gun ownership apart from any “militia,” was groundbreaking.  For it put up a constitutional barrier that has empowered the N.R.A. and its members to resist any significant restriction on gun ownership. With assault rifles and other automatic and semi-automatic weapons readily available, it’s not surprising that we have so many mass shootings in recent years.

In his March 27 op-ed in New York Times, Retired Justice John Paul Stevens, among the four Heller dissenters, called for repeal of the Second Amendment as the most effective way “to weaken the N.R.A.’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other option.” The huge turnouts in the recent student-led March for Life demonstrations suggest that repeal of the Second Amendment is not an impossible goal.

McDonnell v. United States.  A Virginia jury convicted former Governor Bob McDonnell on 11 corruption-related felony counts in 2014.  During his years in office, McDonnell and his wife accepted more than $175,000 in loans and gifts from a businessman seeking the state’s help in promoting a dietary supplement.

Despite the public outcry over what appear to be clear conflicts of interest, a number of senior public officials expressed collegial support of the ex-Governor in his successful appeal. Speaking for a unanimous court in overturning the convictions, Chief Justice Roberts remarked at the close of his opinion: “There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that.  But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes and ball gowns.”

In implying that prosecutors need to show an explicit agreement linking a campaign contribution or gift to a contract, grant or vote, the Court raised the bar for proving corruption to almost unreachable heights. Not surprisingly in the months following the McDonnell decision, government prosecutors lost several major corruption cases (including the ones against Senator Menendez and several New York state legislators).  Without full accountability for conflicts of interest and bribery, the public loses confidence in its public representatives.

If corruption is the evil child, big donor money and Political Action Committees (PACs) are the dysfunctional parents.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. There was money in politics even before Citizens United.  The flow of cash directly or through lobbyists polluted elections and corrupted elected officials.  In holding that political spending is protected speech under the First Amendment, Citizens United poured gasoline on burning coals.  The Court’s decision meant that corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts of money on political activities if done independently of a party or candidate.

It didn’t take long for political action committees (PACs) to find legal ways to deploy vast sums to help certain candidates for office or members of Congress who would vote according to their interests.  Now we find not only major industries such as defense, pharmaceuticals and finance, but also the N.R.A. and AIPAC (the Israel lobby) using PACs and gift travel to buy support from Senators and Representatives.

Money is the root of evil in politics, not only because it corrupts elected officials but more importantly because it robs citizens of the power of their vote and results in policies born of self-interest.

Heller, McDonnell and Citizens United are doing this country incalculable harm. They should be either overturned by the Court or repealed by constitutional amendment.

More articles by:

L. Michael Hager is cofounder and former Director General, International Development Law Organization, Rome.

April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail