Monday, June 27, 2011

The Supreme Court's final rulings of the term -- some surprises, but in the end really more of the same


Plus: Will Blago have to serve the full 300 years?

""Laws like Arizona's matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand."
-- Chief Justice "Smirkin' John" Roberts, in his opinion
Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett

by Ken

Here's how the story was reported in Arizona:
Supreme Court strikes down provision of Arizona campaign finance law

by Mary Jo Pitzl - Jun. 27, 2011
The Republic |

In a 5-4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court Monday struck down a key provision of Arizona's public campaign-finance law.

The court's decision means candidates running under the Arizona Clean Elections system in next year's state elections will not be able to tap public dollars to match the funds raised by their opponents.

Matching funds were created to try and level the playing field between candidates running with public funds and those funding their campaigns with traditional fund-raising tactics. . . .

Man oh man, if there's anything the Roberts Court Gang of Five hates, it's trying to create a level playing field.

The most useful commentary I've seen so far remains the one provided by The New Republic's Rick Hasen: "The Arizona Campaign Finance Law: The Surprisingly Good News in the Supreme Court’s New Decision." Hasen (a visiting law professor at UC Irvine and the writer of Election Law Blog), as I noted earlier, finds in the decision "three pieces of unexpected good news to those of us who believe that reasonable campaign finance regulation is not only constitutional, but essential to prevent corruption and ensure fairness in our democracy":

(1) "[T]he Roberts Court seems to have retreated from the suggestion that all campaign finance laws, aside from disclosure, are in constitutional trouble. . . . [T]he Court confirmed that Citizens United did not overturn the law related to contribution limits, finding these restrictions 'less onerous' and to be upheld under a 'lower level of scrutiny.' That's important, because opponents of campaign finance laws such as conservative attorney Jim Bopp have been going around citing Citizens United in their attempts to get contribution limits struck down left and right."

(2) Confounding some expectations of where Justice Elena Kagan might stand on this issue, based on some of her academic writings, she emerges in writing the dissenting opinion "as a forceful intellectual voice for the constitutionality of reasonable campaign finance regulation. . . . Kagan's dissent was caustic, accusing the majority of missing the point and the challengers to the Arizona law as full of chutzpah. . . . Kagan has emerged here as not only an intellectual leader, but a pugnacious, take-no-prisoners' writer on an issue about which she feels passionately. It is a welcome contrast to Justice Stevens' meandering dissent in Citizens United."

(3) "The last piece of good news is that the Court did not level a death blow to public financing laws. Instead, it said that the decision of cities, states, or Congress enact public financing is 'not our business.' The problem with Arizona's law was not that it gave public financing for elections to candidates, but that it pegged the amount of financing to the political spending of opponents or independent groups opposing the candidate. But lump sum payments should be okay."

Professor Hasen adds:
The big question left open is the fate of public financing programs such as New York City's, which give extra matching funds to participating candidates who collect small donations. This program doesn't directly violate the rule in today's Arizona case, because the amount received is not triggered by opponent spending. But the question will be whether the motive for such programs is to level the playing field. Under the Roberts Court's view of the First Amendment, such an interest remains verboten, even if, as Justice Kagan points out, the law also is justified on anticorruption grounds. Without something like additional matching funds, it is hard to see how governments will enact public financing programs that are both constitutional and attractive enough to candidates.


The conversion of the First Amendment into a right-wing cudgel continues, as the Court struck down California's attempt to prevent sales of extremely violent video games to minors on First Amendment grounds, with ideological lines zigzagging all over the place. The vote was 7-2, and the justices in the "majority" seemed to be ruling on two totally different cases (about the only thing they had in common was their "yea" votes), while the minority consisted of the odd couple of Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer.

The assorted opinions seem mostly direct projections from the relevant justices' ids and superegos. Note, though, that in the end the decision follows the money. Companies wanna sell stuff, and the Roberts Court rarely gets between rich fat white guys and their quest for the Holy Buck.


Jury convicts ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich of trying to sell Obama’s old Senate seat

by Associated Press, Monday, June 27

CHICAGO — Rod Blagojevich, who rode his talkative everyman image to two terms as Illinois governor before scandal made him a national punch line, was convicted Monday of a wide range of corruption charges, including the incendiary allegation that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s Senate seat.

The verdict was a bitter defeat for Blagojevich, who had spent 2½ years professing his innocence on reality TV shows and later on the witness stand. His defense team had insisted that hours of FBI wiretap recordings were just the ramblings of a politician who liked to think out loud. He faces up to 300 years in prison, although federal sentencing guidelines are sure to reduce his time behind bars. . . .
What? You mean the bastard's not going to serve the full 300 years? It's an outrage!

UPDATE: Raúl Grijalva Responds To Supreme Court's Narrow Pro-Fascist, Anti-Democracy Decision

Calling the decision “a troubling sign that wealth now decides how much free speech you get," Grijalva explained that it will reduce the number of qualified people running for office because they can no longer respond to barrages of attack ads with public campaign funds. According to Reuters, about two-thirds of Arizona state candidates use the current public financing system. “Who wants that many Arizonans to decide they can no longer ask for our votes simply because they’re not wealthy?” Grijalva said. He pointed out that the Arizona law in no way prohibits any individual or group from buying advertising or otherwise communicating a political stance or opinion. “All the state said was that money shouldn’t be the determining factor in an election, and today the Supreme Court decided otherwise,” he said. “It’s part of a larger pattern that began with the ideological Citizens United ruling, which has made it impossible to fix what ails our political process. As soon as you decide a corporation is a person, with all the rights we’re granted as free citizens, you’ve turned government into a contest of corporate interests versus popular interests, and corporations always have more to spend than individuals.”

Grijalva said the logic of today’s decision is more about who influences elections than a plain reading of the First Amendment. “While the court majority described this as a matter of free speech, we should talk about the real issue: corporate control of the political process,” Grijalva said. “Working people’s voices continue to be drowned out by well financed corporations with expert marketing strategies. The Framers of our Constitution never meant for wealthy companies or individuals with their own agendas to drown out the rest of us in public debate, especially not by outspending us.”

The dissenting opinion points out that the victorious plaintiffs in the case “ask this Court to prevent Arizona from funding electoral speech-- even though that assistance is offered to every state candidate, on the same (entirely unobjectionable) basis.”

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At 2:17 PM, Anonymous John Evan Miller said...

It seems the common trend is as follows: Provide more power to corporations. You're definitely right in the "quest for the holy buck."

Good post.

At 9:03 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Blago has a big mouth and deserves SOME of what he is suffering but he still never personally benefitted ONE PENNY from any of this, and it STILL looks like prosecution for Thought Crimes to me...tried twice on your tax dollars.


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