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Excerpt: "Roberts and his conservative colleagues have not shied away from empowering malignant, moneyed interests who undermine our democracy. Thursday's decision notwithstanding, this is still a court of, by and for the 1 percent."

Portrait, Katrina vanden Heuvel. (photo:
Portrait, Katrina vanden Heuvel. (photo:

A Court of, by and for the 1%

By Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Washington Post

04 July 12


he highest court in the land has spoken. That’s how President Obama characterized the Supreme Court’s surprising — and welcome — decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, the signature domestic achievement of Obama’s first term. With its divided and bitterly contested 5 to 4 ruling, the arch-conservative Roberts Court spared a major piece of progressive legislation and, in the process, rescued the 35 million uninsured Americans who would have suffered, had the law been struck down.

Even with the court’s limitations on expanding Medicaid to the states and Chief Justice John Roberts’s shameless gutting of commerce clause jurisprudence, the decision was a relief to all who have fought so long for progress.

Right after the highest court in the land spoke, however, one of the lowest forces in the land spoke, too.

Americans for Prosperity, the shadowy conservative super PAC, announced that it would run $8.2 million worth of attack ads to slam health-care reform in nearly a dozen key swing states. No doubt many more of the GOP’s secretive sugar daddies will soon follow suit.

It’s a reminder that Roberts and his conservative colleagues have not shied away from empowering malignant, moneyed interests who undermine our democracy. Thursday’s decision notwithstanding, this is still a court of, by and for the 1 percent.

In fact, last Monday the Supreme Court doubled down on its calamitous Citizens United decision, which unleashed a flood of anonymous, outside, 1 percent spending into our political process.

As Dahlia Lithwick wrote for Slate, rejecting Montana’s attempt to curb the corrupt influence of money in politics in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock showed that “the court’s conservatives don’t care how much you hate Citizens United .”

It’s a shame, because we really do hate Citizens United — a lot.

Nearly 70 percent of voters think super PACs should be outlawed, and more than half “strongly” do. We can hardly believe that the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch will spend more this year than John McCain’s entire presidential campaign raised in 2008. We can’t stand the constant flood of negative ads on every channel or the ominous anonymity of the interests behind them.

The Roberts Court sees all this and refuses to acknowledge that it “give[s] rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

Fortunately, if on the question of campaign finance the Supreme Court is immune to the court of public opinion, progressives are fighting through other avenues to transform today’s corrupt system into one that is fair, transparent and participatory.

In my home state of New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched a path-breaking investigation of tax-exempt groups that might be fraudulently funneling funds into politics, including a “charitable foundation” affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is partnering with Protect Our Democracy, a new campaign by political activist Sean Eldridge and his husband, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, to apply the same successful, grass-roots pressure they used in getting same-sex marriage passed to our campaign finance system. To create a system that will “reconnect the people to the political process and their government,” they have joined with citizen activists who are looking to New York City’s successful, multiple-match public financing system. A Brennan Center for Justice study showed that this system promoted diversity among candidates and donors and reduced the influence of corporate money.

And just as Romney’s Massachusetts health-care reform became a national model, hopefully New York City’s approach will take hold throughout the state, and then across the country. We need to take these robust efforts and fight to implement them at the national level.

That means urging Congress to pass the Disclose Act, which would let citizens know who is behind these secretive super PACs. It means fighting for the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed rule requiring major broadcasters to post online the names of the people funding this avalanche of attack ads. It means fighting for shareholder approval to help rein in corporate spending, and continuing to press for the Fair Elections Now Act, which would inject clean public funding into federal campaigns. And it means holding the media accountable for diligent, vigilant reporting on money in politics and on the greatest concentration of wealth and power since the Gilded Age.

Ultimately, nothing short of a constitutional amendment can stem the flood of corporate cash and settle once and for all that corporations are not people and money is not speech. Several have already been introduced in Congress. But the big story since the devastating Citizens United ruling has been the citizens’ movement it inspired. As Texas’s legendary populist Jim Hightower has written, “Ironically, Citizens United . . . literally united America’s citizenry in broad, deep, and vehement opposition to the absurd notion that a corporation is entitled to inclusion as one of us in ‘We the People.’ ”

The mega-millionaires are happily shouting through their big-money megaphones. But on this July 4th, it’s worth remembering the words of Thomas Jefferson: “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” It’s time for “we the people” to raise our voices and to show that, when you keep big money out of the political process, you can bring everyone else in.

Katrina vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column for The Post. She is the editor and publisher of The Nation magazine and writes the "Editor's Cut" blog there. She has also edited or co-edited several books, including: "The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in the Age of Obama" (2011), "Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover" (2009), "Taking Back America - and Taking Down the Radical Right" (2004) and "Voices of Glasnost: Interviews with Gorbachev's Reformers" (1990). A New York City native and a graduate of Princeton University, vanden Heuvel lives in New York with her husband and daughter. your social media marketing partner


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+30 # Lisa Moskow 2012-07-04 09:30
I say again, impeach at least Scalia and Thomas.
+15 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-07-04 11:27
Repeal Citizens United.
+5 # Vardoz 2012-07-04 11:44
This reality has been a mantra for sometime now. The quesrtion is how will we change things and will we be smart enough to make the right choices and not let big money and attack ads blind us?
+6 # geraldom 2012-07-04 11:56
What should concern all Americans is that, although SCOTUS is the most important court in the nation, it's not just SCOTUS that has been corrupted over the decades, & most especially since GWB became pres in 2000 by stealing the election from Al Gore, but almost all of the fed court system at all levels, especially at the higher levels.

But, it's not just the federal court system that has been fully corrupted by corrupt & unprincipled presidents, but many of the state-level court systems as well. It doesn't matter anymore as to how judges are selected at the state level, either by the Gov of a state or by elections. If a corrupt Gov is elected to office, he (or she) will obviously select politically-ori ented ideological judges in the same way GWB did. And, if elections are used to select state-level judges, corrupt judges will win out anyway because of the money that will be spent to remove decent judges with the same kind of strategy & attack ads that have been used to attack political candidates running for office.

The Democratic Party under the Senate leadership of Harry Reid helped approve well over 300 of GWB's worst & most radical & corrupt ideologues as judges on the federal bench, lifetime appointments all, & since HAVA now requires by law that corrupt & fraudulent e-voting machines now be used in all 50 states, we no longer have any legal redress to reestablish democracy in this country.

Does anyone have any good suggestions?
+3 # mdhome 2012-07-04 18:42
No, We have been screwed. Democracy, is in its death throws and we are unfortunate enough to be living during the painful process. like the man said: When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag carrying the buybull.
+1 # AMLLLLL 2012-07-06 06:44
md, my hit on this move is that the itchy Koch brothers will get their guys elected (like Walker in WI) and by the time we overturn Citizens United it will be too late.
+1 # geraldom 2012-07-06 14:57
I'm sorry, AMLLLLL, but the trap has been shut behind us. The only thing is that the American people don't realize it yet, but, when they do, it will be too late for them to do anything about it.

It's like that old analogy where you put a frog into a pot of water that is slowly being heated to boil, and by the time the frog realizes what happening, he's cooked. That's what happened in Nazi Germany, and it's happening right here in this country, right now. There is nothing that anyone can do now, at least legally, to stop it. And, if you're thinking that we can vote the bad people out and the good people in, you can forget it since you have no idea who you're voting for when you press those buttons on those fraudulent and corruptible e-voting machines.

And, if you think that you can use the judicial systems in this country to correct any injustices, you can forget that too because the whole of the federal court system has been completely corrupted and destroyed as well thanks to GWB with the support of what is supposed to be the opposition political party in this country, the Democrats, in placing well over 300 of his extremist political ideologue judges onto the federal bench for lifetime appointments, including Samuel Alito and John Roberts onto SCOTUS.

I'm not being negative here, nor am I being a pessimist. I am just being a realist. Unlike many people here in the United States, I don't have my head stuck in the sand like an Ostrich.
+7 # Bill Clements 2012-07-04 12:16
Sadly, and not mentioned by Katrina, the other aspect of the Supreme Court's decision: the expansion of Medicaid ruling.

Medicaid is supposed to cover 20 million of the 35 million people who will gain insurance under the Affordable Care Act. If enough states decide to deny the Medicaid expansion, this may substantially reduce the ability of ACA to expand insurance coverage.
+7 # rafael 2012-07-04 12:18
If we have a liberal mainstream media in the US, how come Katrina almost never gets invited to the network talk programs but George Will has a permanent seat?

I've been asking around among younger people than I for suggestions as to what it will take for "we the people" to raise our voices and not "remain silent" but so far, the meantime we can salve ourselves with nice words from Ms vanden Heuvel. Long live The Nation magazine.
+6 # davidr 2012-07-04 12:18
The kinds of initiatives discussed by vanden Heuvel will do a lot more good than waiting for some major change in SCOTUS or the Constitution.

The Court's majority believes that money and liberty are identical, that regulation of commerce is an attack upon political freedom, that economic justice (unless defined as unconstrained self-seeking) must be a stalking horse for totalitarianism . What they believe is grotesque and unsupportable, but not impeachable.

An Amendment granting Congress the power to regulate campaign spending might one day become law, but don't hold your breath. And even if we did get such an Amendment, what regulation would actually come to pass? Schneiderman today is worth a Constitutional amendment at some far off time.
+9 # Gwat 2012-07-04 12:19
This was a win/win decision for Roberts and the 1%. Giving the impression of impartiality on the part of the court (some Democrats have fallen for this) and at the same time giving the GOP fuel to power their campaign - a new "tax" on the citizens. A brilliant move that has changed dramatically their chances in the upcoming presidential elections. Karl Rove could not have scripted it better. A hollow victory for the 99%, substandard dis-ease care at an outrageous cost. For Obama and Roberts, both members of the 1%, it was win/win. For the 1% who own the insurance companies, hospitals and Big Pharma, a gift of massive proportions. Just brilliant!
+3 # geraldom 2012-07-04 21:38
It has been suggested that John Roberts actually did the very best thing that he could for the Republican agenda if they plan on repealing the ACA. By claiming that the mandate is a tax and not a penalty, if Mitt Romney were to win the presidency come November, and the Republicans have control of both houses of Congress, then all Romney needs in order to repeal the ACA is a simple majority vote in the Senate. He doesn't need a 60+ vote filibuster-proo f majority to nullify the ACA, only a 51-vote majority.

In essence, Roberts did the Republicans a favor if they can take control of both houses of Congress and the White House. If Roberts had voted against the mandate, it would have been more complicated. The ACA might still be alive and well, and if the Republicans did win control of both houses of Congress and the White House come November, they would need a 60+ vote majority to overcome a filibuster by the Democrats.
+3 # Bigfella 2012-07-04 22:33
The demusing thing is I understand this fully.
I am not even a citizen of the USA and have never ventured into any terriories of the USA.
(If I did I would probable disappear into a black ops jail.thanks to HLS.)
Happy 4th of July USA may you liberty be returned and the good people keep standing up against the dark forces at play.
As an Australian we often get sick of being bombarded by USA News via the properganda box.
It is only on line we find the other vioces of the USA and truth.
0 # AMLLLLL 2012-07-06 06:51
Thanks for the cheers, big fella, we could use it about now. Passive citizenry is outdated and we need to get used to maintaining a proactive stance toward our government, the government that we are supposed to make work for us, not cower under.

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