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Sen. Russ Feingold recently slammed the Supreme Court and strongly implied that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito lied, under oath, to the Senate during their confirmation hearings.
In a speech on Sept. 10, Feingold, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, denounced the “Citizens United” decision that the Court handed down earlier this year.
Feingold called it “a lawless decision.”
That decision allows corporations to give unlimited contributions in favor of, or in opposition to, a candidate so long as those contributions aren’t coordinated with a candidate’s campaign. It treats corporations the same way it treats individuals. (See http://www.progressive.org/mrapril10.html.)
But, said Feingold, “they are not the same as us. They do not have the same rights as all of us. And that decision is wrong on the law, and wrong for America, and an enormous danger for the political process.”
Without naming any names, Feingold said that George W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominees “came before the Judiciary Committee and promised me, under oath, that they would follow precedent, that they would be neutral umpires calling balls and strikes. Well, of course, they did the opposite.”
He was clearly referring to Chief Justice Roberts, who famously said at his confirmation hearing on September 12, 2005: “I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”
And Feingold also appeared to be speaking about Justice Alito, who testified on January 10, 2006, that “courts should respect the judgments and the wisdom that are embodied in prior judicial decisions.” Alito added: “It's important because it limits the power of the judiciary.”
Said Feingold: “These people who pledged to follow precedent overturned a law signed by Teddy Roosevelt in 1907, proposed and backed by Fighting Bob La Follette. And it’s been the law of the land for 100 years that corporations cannot use their treasuries to directly impact elections.”
Feingold said the stakes are high. “We have got to overturn this decision,” he said. “That means President Obama needs another appointment either in this term or a second term or this democracy will head dramatically in the wrong direction.”
Feingold was speaking to a crowd of about 700 people at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, at the kickoff event of FightingBobFest, http://fightingbobfest.org an annual gathering of progressives. A partial transcript of his speech is below. Or you can view it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch
Sen. Russ Feingold’s Speech on the Citizens United Case
Delivered at FightingBobFest on Sept. 10, 2010
… It was in the early 1990s, under some Democrats, where the bright idea was cooked up, “Well, gee, why don’t we let corporations and unions and wealthy individuals give unlimited campaign contributions to the political parties independent of the campaign finance limits that had been put in place in the 1970s?”
This was the beginning of soft money. . . . There was no controlling legal authority to prevent a corporation from giving a million dollars Monday night to the Democrats and a million dollars Tuesday night to the Republicans, and on Wednesday have a vote to pass a lousy trade agreement that sends our jobs overseas. That’s exactly what happened with the unlimited campaign contributions. This was a growing cancer in our system.
That’s why John McCain and I and others succeeded in banning those kinds of contributions. . . . And the right and the corporations were absolutely fit to be tied. They couldn’t believe we’d actually achieved something on a bipartisan basis for the American people.
And they started to plot, and they started to work. And of course a certain guy named George Bush became President by a vote of the Supreme Court. And they got some judicial appointments. People that came before the Judiciary Committee and promised me, under oath, that they would follow precedent, that they would be neutral umpires calling balls and strikes.
Well, of course, they did the opposite. They took every opportunity they could when it came to the campaign finance laws to destroy everything but the ban that McCain and I got into place.
So what did they do? They did the Citizens United case. Now just about everybody I’ve talked to said this is one of the worst decisions in the history of the United States Supreme Court. These people who pledged to promise precedent overturned a law signed by Teddy Roosevelt in 1907, proposed and backed by Fighting Bob La Follette. And it’s been the law of the land for 100 years that corporations cannot use their treasuries to directly impact elections. It’s always been the law for 100 years. In 1947, conservatives weren’t very happy that they weren’t the only ones limited, so they managed to get through a provision in the Taft-Hartley Act that said unions couldn’t do it, either. And so it continued, and it was understood that that was impossible to do in the United States. That’s why they were looking for other ways to do it; that’s why they wanted to use this soft money scam. Court case after court case after court case reaffirmed that these statutes were valid and a foundation of our system of government.
So what did these five justices say? They said, “Actually we went back and checked with the founders of the country. And the founders apparently believed that corporations were exactly the same as us, and that a corporation has every right the same as us, and therefore you cannot restrict their ability to buy an election.”
It’s a lawless decision by our highest court.
But four justices disputed it, led by John Paul Stevens, a 90-year-old justice in his last major decision. He went up to the bench—and they usually just announce their decision—and he made these guys listen to him for 20 minutes as he summarized his brilliant 80-page decision, disputing that the corporations are the same as us.
They are not the same as us. They do not have the same rights as all of us. And that decision is wrong on the law, and wrong for America, and an enormous danger for the political process as we go forward.
It’s the Supreme Court. It’s a court case. How can you get people to understand and feel what this means for them? Well, I’ve been amazed at my town meetings. People who I thought would never want to bring up this subject say, “What in the heck was that decision?” Across the board. Even tea party people think it’s a bad decision.
And all you got to tell people is this is what it means. If you go down the street, and go into, let’s say, a BP gas station and buy $10 of gas, that money can now for the first time in 100 years be immediately placed on television to defend candidates who defend Big Oil, and big insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry. That’s what it means.
What do they want? They want us to start picking Democratic toothpaste companies and Republican toothpaste companies? That’s what we’re going to have to do if the law says that corporations can use your money to directly influence elections.
Now we’re trying to do something about this mess. We can only go so far in the Congress because it’s a constitutional decision. But we’re trying to pass something. We’ve got 59 votes. We need one more. It’s called the Disclose Act. It’s pretty weak tea. It doesn’t even deal with the danger of foreign money coming in through this decision. It just says that you should have to disclose who you are. So Exxon can’t say we’re the Family Friendly People. They have to say they’re Exxon.
…I don’t want to kid you. Even if we pass it, it’s only a tiny step. We need to overturn this decision. We need to overturn this decision. That means President Obama needs another appointment either in this term or a second term or this democracy will head dramatically in the wrong direction. We have got to overturn this decision. And as we strategize to do whatever we can do, between now and then, to limit the effects of this decision, I want you to know that I’m committed to this cause because I think it goes to the very core of our democracy.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his article “Queenmaker Palin Triumphs with Christine O’Donnell.”
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