Watch U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito publicly demonstrate his partisan disgust with President Obama. Alito grimaces and mouths “not true” when Obama voices his on-target criticism of the Court’s decision to allow corporations to spend unlimited sums to influence our elections. Alito’s behavior betrays fundamental principles of judicial conduct.
Many on the right are panicking about a deep flaw (among many) in the Supreme Court’s opinion allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts to influence election outcomes. Americans of all political stripes are outraged at the Court’s embrace of institutional corruption and the possible influence of foreign corporations in our politics. Some are arguing the Court hasn’t opened the door to foreign influence. But since many corporations have a great number of foreign shareholders, and many foreign companies have American subsidiaries, they can’t explain how the spending will be banned.
The opinion creates a deep rift between authoritarian and libertarian Republicans, a rift big enough to hurt the GOP in 2010 and beyond. Authoritarian Republicans have an old Calvinist belief that God intends those with authority to be in authority. It’s no longer just a religious belief, having long ago become a principle of secular authoritarians. Power is a sign that one is among the Elect. Earthbound democracy is of little concern, although they do get annoyed when democracy interferes with their righteous plans. Dick Cheney’s demonstrated impatience with democracy — his snarling annoyance at debates, his secrecy, his drive for executive power — will give you the idea.
Libertarians and individualists have been misled for many years that it’s the GOP that champions individual rights. Now they are seeing that Republicans are really all about authority over individuals, whether that authority comes from a corporation or a corporation’s bought-and-paid-for elected errand boy.
Corporations have no national allegiance. They are transnational, and their first and only duty is to make money. Their authority is, in a sense, transcendent. In the minds of corporatists, their power doesn’t stem from any nation’s laws (even though the State charters them and gives them privileges and benefits).
The allegedly non-partisan Politifact.com says Obama’s assertion, which echoes the concern of many, about foreign influence is only “barely true.” This they do after quoting many experts saying it’s certainly a possibility. Under their reasoning, it’s only barely true that a bullet fired from a gun will kill you. It could just result in a flesh wound, after all. Why worry?
Let’s return to Alito. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, with whom I have some disagreement with about the reasoning of the Court’s opinion in Citizens United V. FEC, gets it right about Alito.
…the behavior of Justice Alito at last night’s State of the Union address — visibly shaking his head and mouthing the words “not true” when Obama warned of the dangers of the Court’s Citizens United ruling — was a serious and substantive breach of protocol that reflects very poorly on Alito and only further undermines the credibility of the Court. It has nothing to do with etiquette and everything to do with the Court’s ability to adhere to its intended function.
What Alito did was publicly demonstrate to America that the Court is no longer an impartial arbiter, despite all its right wing members’ criticism of “activist” judges. The Court is running errands for authoritarians, just the way their hired hands in elected office do.
The Court’s opinion freeing corporations to dominate our politics is a watershed moment in our history. Left unchallenged, it will reduce what’s left of popular democracy to a mere shadow show. The growing debate has the potential to positively reshape our politics, however, as libertarian-minded Americans understand that corporatist Republicans are not their allies, and as progressives make it clear that reform must focus on individual rights.
UPDATE: The Republicans’ nervousness over the issue is demonstrated by their unthinking, knee-jerk attempts to call Obama’s assertion untrue. But it is true, and they know it. What they don’t know is how to hide their complicity in the decision from their own supporters, many of whom are aghast at the Court’s decision. I just say the following from a right wing blogger at National Review Online:
This [Obama's statement] is either blithering ignorance of the law, or demogoguery of the worst kind.
No one should be confused about this. There are prohibitions in the current law on foreign contributions to campaigns. The Court ducked the issue, but mentioned these prohibitions. However, the current law does not speak to or prohibit spending from domestic corporations with foreign investors, or the American subsidiaries of foreign corporations. The Court has opened to the door to campaign spending by these kinds of organizations.