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Trump Refuses to Keep This Country Safe from Terrorism

I thought a lot about two things over the weekend.

I thought about the line that disqualifies an otherwise excellent book on left wing terrorism in the 1970s, Days of Rage: “With the possible exception of the Ku Klux Klan,” author Bryan Burrough claimed close to the beginning of the book, “the United States until 1970 had never spawned any kind of true underground movement committed to terrorist acts.” The book, which spends a lot of time talking about left wing political violence in significant part stemmed out of a concern for the rights of African Americans, utterly dismissed (perhaps because it was so widely accepted it could barely be called “underground”?) America’s most persistent terrorist movement as such. The line has haunted me ever since as an example of the kind of blindness even experts have about the centrality of right wing terrorism in American history.

I thought, too, about Charlie Savage’s description in Power Wars of how Scott Brown’s team claimed that his polling showed he won the 2010 special election to replace Ted Kennedy chiefly because of perceptions of how Obama responded to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed Christmas Eve bombing, because Brown attacked Obama for wanting to give terrorists due process. Once Republicans learned that, they doubled down, encouraging voters to become more afraid.

In a question-and-answer period following his prepared remarks, [Mitch] McConnell candidly acknowledged the political advantage of hammering away at the issue, citing Brown’s victory.

“If this approach of putting these people in U.S. courts doesn’t play in Massachusetts, I don’t know where it sells,” McConnell said, adding: “You can campaign on these issues anywhere in America.”

As Savage describes, that was when Obama started caving on his efforts to adopt a more reasonable approach to terrorism, first reversing Eric Holder’s decision to try the 9/11 defendants in NYC, then launching an 18-month campaign to drone kill Anwar al-Awlaki, and ultimately failing to close Gitmo or hold torturers to account.

Now, as Savage tells it, all that arose solely out of the Abdulmutallab case. He barely covered an event that preceded it, one where Republicans very much set up the Brown lines: when Pete Hoekstra leaked information obtained via FISA collection showing that Nidal Hasan had had communications with Awlaki before his attack on Fort Hood, using it to suggest the Obama Administration should have prevented the Fort Hood attack by adequately analyzing collected communications. Republican efforts to exact a cost from Obama for a more reasonable approach to terrorism (which included demanding that Obama call Hasan’s attack on a military target, terrorism) actually preceded the Abdulmutallab attack, and it was far more deliberate than made out.

The point is, though, that it had the short term desired effect of breaking the Democratic super majority in the Senate and the longer term effect of making Obama reactive on terrorism, rather than proactive (even through the time, in 2013, when Massachusetts was successfully attacked at the Boston Marathon and polls showed people actually didn’t want any more limits on civil liberties). Republicans deliberately and successfully forced a president who wanted to be something other than a War on Terror President to instead be just that.

And now, 8 years after Mitch McConnell gleefully said Republicans should run on hard nose accountability for terrorist attacks everywhere, Republicans are whining that Democrats are treating Trump’s actions in advance of and in the wake of serial right wing terrorist attacks last week as a political issue.

In the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks, we have returned to a discussion we always have after such things, why we call Islamic terrorism terror, but call the targeting of black churches and Jewish synagogues hate crimes and the attempted assassination of Democratic figures bomb attacks. Popehat wrote a worthy lawsplainer, from the viewpoint of a former prosecutor, why domestic terrorists don’t get (immediately) labeled as terrorist attacks. 9/11 Commission staffer Daniel Byman acknowledged that while we don’t have the same legal structure for pursuing domestic terrorist as we do terrorism with a foreign nexus, for the Pittsburgh case, at least, we should probably use the T-word.

I’ve talked about why it is important to call domestic terrorism terrorism here: First, because not doing so results in an equal protection problem, where Muslims are more likely to be targeted in a sting because the FBI has greater access to the communications of still-innocent people with suspect people overseas. And, because calling something terrorism conceives of the possibility of a supporting network, and investigating that network might prevent deaths, such as those perpetrated by the networks of Eric Rudolph or Kevin Harpham.

But the government may not call these acts terrorism. That’s true, in part, because DOJ has invented a separate category to criminalize (impose the death penalty on) hateful motives with hate crimes designation. In addition, Jeff Sessions’ DOJ has adopted a deliberate policy of record-keeping to try to claim that the greatest threats come from outside the country, which is paralleled by their thus far unsuccessful attempt to brand the (US-born) MS-13 gang both as a threat sourced from Central American and as a threat to rival ISIS.

Trump’s effort to brand a group of refugees 1,000 miles from the border as a more urgent threat to the country than corruption or climate change or domestic gun violence — an effort which likely had a tie to both Cesar Sayoc’s terrorist attempt and Robert Bowers’ mass killing — is more of the same, an effort to claim that the most critical threats are foreign and anything he deems a threat is therefore un-American, also foreign.

Ultimately, the reason why the government won’t call last week’s attacks terrorism, however, is precisely the reason they should. Call them terror attacks, and the networks of support and enablers get investigated rather than just isolated men treated as lone wolves. Call them terror attacks, and we start to ask what responsibility Lou Dobbs or Steve King or Chris Farrell (or the people who vote for and fund them) — or Donald Trump — have for the attacks, in the same way we held Anwar al-Awlaki responsible for his role in the terrorist attacks that Scott Brown exploited to get elected.

Byman describes correctly how contentious this can be, because those espousing the same policies as terrorists don’t want to be associated with those terrorist acts.

[D]omestic terrorism often has a bigger political impact than jihadi violence. A foreign-based attack brings America together in the face of tragedy. But right-wing (and left-wing) violence is more likely to divide the country. Just this week, for example, 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc reportedly sent explosive packages to CNN, Democratic politicians, and others seen as “enemies” of Trump. Some right-wing voices immediately embraced conspiracy theories rather than recognizing his activities for what it was. Domestic terrorists poke at bigger political wounds than do jihadis, with at least some Americans sympathizing with their cause even as they reject their violent means.

In turn, observers often avoid the word “terrorism” because peaceful proponents of right-wing and left-wing causes don’t want to be lumped together, even by weak association, with terrorists. We can and should recognize that most political groups of all stripes abhor violence. Doing so—while also acknowledging that the groups and individuals who don’t belong in a separate category—will better enable the United States to isolate extremists and cut them off before the next tragedy.

Which is why this post bears the headline, “Trump refuses to keep this country safe from terrorism” rather than Trump fosters terrorism, even if I believe the latter to be the case.

Because until the time those willing to coddle Trump’s racism in the name of tribal loyalty are defeated politically, they will want to pitch questions about what to label Cesar Sayoc and Robert Bowers’ actions as an attack on themselves.

Instead, let’s make it an attack on Donald Trump’s basic competence as President, one the Republicans themselves, from top to bottom, have embraced.

It is the Republican party of Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell and Scott Brown and (Trump Ambassador to the Netherlands) Pete Hoekstra that says a President who won’t keep the country safe from terrorism must be defeated politically. Me, I’d rather deal with all this domestic terrorism by first closely tracking those accused of domestic violence (which would have the effect of preventing non-ideological mass killings along with the ideological mass killings and attempts) and by noting that under George W Bush and Obama, the FBI was actually pretty good at discovering right wing terrorism without the tools they have against Islamic terrorism. I’d rather Democrats run on the fear of losing health insurance or the impact of climate change or gun violence generally.

But not Republicans. Republicans believe that a President who refuses to take a very aggressive approach to terrorism should not be President. So for those Republicans, let’s make this an issue not of the ways Trump’s network fostered actions like we saw last week, but how Trump’s Administration has chosen not to combat terrorism.

Behind the Humble Blue Pickup Scott Brown Has Been Working for Banks with Ties to Home-Stealing Forgers

Remember when Scott Brown used his old GMC pickup to promise he’d change business as usual in Washington?

In a bid to force Elizabeth Warren to reveal her clients going back decades, Brown made this admission.

“I am also a real estate attorney with a very small general practice. I don’t have any corporate clients, where I get paid tens of thousands of dollars.”

Mostly, he said, his local legal work involved property closings and real estate transactions. He said he has worked for Wrentham Cooperative Bank, Hyde Park Cooperative Bank and Middlesex Savings Bank.

I was a title agent for first American and Fidelity National Title and I represented a couple of small mortgage companies that are probably out of business now,” Mr. Brown said. [my emphasis]

As Adam Levitin and DDay translate, by working for Fidelity National, Brown worked for the parent company of one of the most corrupt players among the rogues gallery of mortgage fraudsters.

Fidelity National is the former parent company of LPS, one of the worst offenders in the foreclosure fraud industry. Fidelity National split with LPS very quickly once their worst abuses came to light.

As I’m sure you can gather from my reports here, LPS was a middleman in this game, providing faulty documents – often off a prescribed menu, where you pay $100 for a mortgage assignment, or $150 for a full loan file – through its subsidiary DocX. This company facilitated forgeries and mass false documents, which we know through Lynn Szymoniak’s work. The Linda Green phenomenon came right out of LPS and DocX. This is where robo-signing lived.

And while we don’t know what Brown did–or still does!–for Fidelity National, it does place him in the front seat of the housing bubble.

It’s not clear exactly what Brown was doing for these clients–title work sounds innocent and boring enough, and Brown certainly isn’t responsible for all of his clients’ misdeeds.  But at the very least, Brown’s association raises a host of questions. Who were those “mortgage companies” that he worked for?  It’s nice that Brown named a bunch of local banks, but I wonder what lies under the “mortgage company” label?  What did Scott Brown understand about the mortgage market he was facilitating? Did he recognize that there was a bubble?  (He was a town property assessor at one point, so one would think he’d notice this sort of thing.) If not, what does that say?  And if so, what does thatsay? How many predatory loans did Scott Brown facilitate?  How many of the loans where he handled the closing resulted in foreclosure?  What would he say to those families that lost their homes to predatory loans?

Since Brown first raised these nice homely local banks with ties to document forgers in a bid to force Warren to explain more about how she helped people get asbestos settlements and other things, I’m sure he’ll have no problem answering Levitin’s questions about precisely what he did and knew about the mortgage industry. Ha! And, as DDay notes, he should also answer for the conflicts of interest that led him to hold up some financial reform.

He held out in the [financial reform] bill, getting a bank fee removed that would have paid for much of the regulatory measures, and weakening the Volcker rule to allow more proprietary trading among big financial institutions. So Brown was a cog in the great finance wheel when doing these closings and “title work,” and also when a US Senator trying to enable as much profit-earning risk in the big financial institutions as possible. A useful cog.

Before Scott Brown digs up work Warren did years ago, he probably ought to elaborate on this nice homey mortgage work, and let us know whether he was ignorant to the corruption around him, or just facilitating it. After all, he’s the guy insisting on transparency .

Most Blunt Amendment Supporters Likely to Have Used Birth Control

I confess. I’m contemplating calling all the Senators who voted for the Blunt Amendment yesterday to ask for a statement detailing:

  • What the Senators’ history of reproductive choice has been, including details on what kinds of birth control they’ve used and who paid for it
  • Whether the Senators (or their spouses) have used erectile dysfunction drugs, and who paid for it

Mind you, I think such questions are inappropriate. But given that 48 Senators–including 3 Democrats and 4 women–voted yesterday to say that employers should have really intrusive control over their employees’ healthcare decisions (including, but in no way limited, to reproductive health), it seems fair to at least inquire whether these men and women have been relying on birth control to plan their families, whether their use of birth control violates their religion’s stated doctrine, and whether taxpayers paid for birth control during their child-bearing years.

As you can see from the list below, the vast majority of Senators who voted for the Blunt Amendment are likely to have relied on birth control or sterilization to limit their family size. Just three–Susan Collins, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Lindsey Graham–have no biological children. And just three–Mike Crapo (5), Chuck Grassley (5), and Orrin Hatch (6)–have more than 4 biological children (McCain and Blunt have more with their adopted kids). Of those likely to have used birth control or sterilization, 22 worked for local, state, or federal government during a roughly calculated “child-bearing” period of their life, meaning taxpayers may have paid for their birth control (though of course their spouses’ employers may have provided health care, too). Of those likely to have used more than the rhythm method, 10 are Catholic.

So I’m going to contemplate this over the weekend. But for the moment, consider that the great majority of the Senators who voted to let employers restrict birth control access seem to have families that have been shaped by birth control.

Note the following details are a first draft–please let me know of any inaccuracies.

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Dick and the Naked Senator: Waterboarding BFFs

Breaking! (Not) Dick Cheney loves him some waterboarding.

KARL: If you have somebody in custody like Abdulmutallab, after just trying to blow up an airliner, and you think he has information on another attack, I mean, do you think that those enhanced interrogation techniques should have been — should have been used? I mean, would you — do you think that he should have been, for instance, subject to everything, including waterboarding?

CHENEY: Well, I think the — the professionals need to make that judgment. We’ve got people in — we had in our administration — I’m sure they’re still there — many of them were career personnel — who are expects in this subject. And they are the ones that you ought to turn somebody like Abdulmutallab over to, let them be the judge of whether or not he’s prepared to cooperate and how they can best achieve his cooperation.

KARL: But you believe they should have had the option of everything up to and including waterboarding?

CHENEY: I think you ought to have all of those capabilities on the table. Now, President Obama has taken them off the table. He announced when he came in last year that they would never use anything other than the U.S. Army manual, which doesn’t include those techniques. I think that’s a mistake.

Rather than focusing on Cheney’s restatement of his love for torture, I’d like to use the outrage about Cheney’s calm embrace of waterboarding (again) to recall two other data points.

First, the guy Massachusetts just elected to replace Teddy Kennedy? He is just as big a fan of waterboarding as Dick Cheney.

State Senator Scott Brown, the Republican candidate for US Senate, endorsed yesterday the use of enhanced interrogation techniques – including the practice of simulated drowning known as waterboarding – in questioning terror suspects.

[snip]

Brown, in response to a question, told reporters that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, the Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a passenger jet en route to Detroit on Christmas Day, should be treated as an enemy combatant, taken to the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, interrogated “pursuant to our rules of engagement and laws of war,’’ and not be treated as a civilian criminal suspect. Brown asserted that waterboarding does not constitute torture, but he did not specifically say Abdulmutallab should be subjected to waterboarding.

“I don’t support torture; the United States does not support torture,’’ Brown, a military lawyer in the Massachusetts National Guard, told reporters.

Yes, it’s bad that the war criminal who set up our torture system continues to push torture on the Sunday shows. But don’t forget that Senator Scott Brown, a JAG in MA’s National Guard with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, has several years of legislating ahead of him, and he supports torture just as proudly as Dick Cheney.

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Scott Brown and Do-Nothing Senate Will Cause 900,000 More to Lose Jobs

Count me among those who are grateful that Harry Reid scaled back the Senate jobs bill instead of letting MaxTax Baucus and Chuck Grassley use it to push through another estate tax break for Paris Hilton. That said, what he is pushing is another poorly-designed tax break that will do little to support jobs. More importantly, it offers no relief for states, trying to keep teachers and cops and firemen on the job. And that means as many as 900,000 people will lose their jobs because the Senate is unwilling or unable to do what the House has already done. (h/t Calculated Risk)

Federal aid to the states was among the top priorities in an early Senate job creation bill, as well as in a $154 billion measure passed by the House in December. But it has fallen off the list as Senate Democrats look to craft legislation that will attract bipartisan support.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Thursday unveiled a jobs bill that does not contain state aid. A Senate Democratic aide said Reid hopes to back a state aid measure in the future. Republican support, however, remains questionable.

[snip]

States are looking at a total budget gap of $180 billion for fiscal 2011, which for most of them begins July 1. These cuts could lead to a loss of 900,000 jobs, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com.

The article goes on to describe CA’s well-publicized woes. But it also notes that Senator Scott Brown’s state of Massachusetts may have to dramatically cut back because it is not getting $600 million in federal Medicaid funds they were counting on.

Just so long as we make it clear that Scott Brown bears a great deal of responsibility for holding that money up.

Of COURSE Blumenthal Is Running against Civilian Law

Gregg has a post up expressing shock that Richard Blumenthal, CT’s craven Attorney General running to replace Chris Dodd, advocated against using civilian law for both Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the UndieBomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Gregg argues that Blumenthal’s stance (on this issue and on opposition to Bernanke’s reconfirmation) is directly counter to the Administration’s policy.

To which I’d respond in two ways.

  • Of course he’s running against civilian law.
  • It’s not so clear his stance on civilian law (as opposed to Ben Bernanke) is “completely counter to the position of the administration.”

Here’s a big chunk from Gregg’s post:

But listen to what comes next—listen to this relative non sequitur that Blumenthal volunteers without a prompting question:

I’m determined to chart my own course in Washington, different in many respects from the Administration. I’ve taken the position that the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed should be in a military tribunal away from the United States, or, I’m sorry, away from New York and New Haven, and on a number of other issues, for example opposing the reconfirmation of Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve, I have charted my own course, I’m prepared to do it, and issue-by-issue debate either side in what I think is the right thing to do.

What this attorney general and former US attorney has to say about who supposedly is and is not entitled to their rights is pretty shocking,

[snip]

Yet, just over a year after the inauguration of this theoretically still popular president, the candidate for US Senate in Connecticut just went out of his way to distance himself from the White House on two hot issues—a civil trial for KSM and the reappointment of Ben Bernanke as Fed Chair.

But wait, there’s more.

Blumenthal was next asked about whether Christmas crotch-bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should have been brought into the US criminal process, and the question turned to Miranda rights (I apologize in advance for the meandering quote, but I want to give the entire context):

Let’s talk in real terms about what Mirandizing means. It means reading somebody their rights as opposed to simply interrogating them. I think there’s a general consensus now that in that instance there may have been no real need to read Miranda rights before some interrogation took place. And, in my view, with a terrorist, with our nation potentially at risk, interrogation should be pursued, and the consequences may be that some evidence may be inadmissible, but there is obviously in that case, overwhelming evidence without whatever may be gained or gleaned from the interrogation. So, bottom line, interrogation should have been pursued by a specially trained group of agents without necessarily a lawyer being present, and if at some point there was diminished usefulness to the interrogation, other criminal interrogation should have been applied perhaps by other authorities.

Yes, this is utter garbage—in terms of what actually happened to Abdulmutallab, what Miranda rights actually are, and who is entitled to them by law—but stick with me:

Very often the reading of rights diminishes the usefulness of subsequent interrogation, the reason being simply that the defendant chooses to have a lawyer present, or chooses to cease talking. And I would have pursued the interrogation without the Miranda rights because I believe that the usefulness of learning about contacts from Yemen and elsewhere in the world and potential immediate attacks that may be known to this individual outweigh the benefits of having that at the trial

Yes, more inaccuracies and inanities in search of a position, so questioner Lehrer wanted to clarify, should Abdulmutallab be tried in civilian court? “Probably not in criminal court,” says Blumenthal.

Stupid, yes, but importantly here, also completely counter to the position of the administration of a president still thought popular in Dick’s state.

Now, as I suggested, it should surprise no one that a “finger-in-the-wind” politician like Blumenthal is taking this stance against civilian law.

As I pointed out earlier this week, Scott Brown says he won in MA (which is slightly to the left of CT, if you look at it from my perspective) because he ran against civilian law.

Republicans discovered the renewed power of terrorism in last month’s special Senate election in Massachusetts. Neil Newhouse, the pollster for the Republican victor, Scott Brown, said voters responded to the way Mr. Brown framed the issue, supporting him 63 percent to 26 percent when told he favored charging suspected terrorists as enemy combatants in a military tribunal while his Democratic opponent would give them constitutional rights and a civilian trial.

“This moved voters more than the health care issue did,” Mr. Newhouse said. “The terrorism stuff resonated, and it wasn’t just from the advertising we did.” [my emphasis]

Scott Brown’s pollster found that MA voters–voting to replace Ted Kennedy, of all people!!!–were more than twice as likely to support Brown for advocating against civilian law than Martha Coakley, the AG from the state next door to Blumenthal’s, who supported it. Scott Brown won at least partly because he trashed civilian law (he even went so far as to endorse water-boarding explicitly, in MA, and still won).

And, as I also pointed out this week, in response to the lesson they took from the Brown win, Republicans are running hard against civilian law. “If this approach of putting these people in U.S. courts doesn’t sell in Massachusetts, I don’t know where it sells,” Mitch McConnell told someone at a Heritage event on February 3. He went on to say, “You can campaign on these issues anywhere in America.”

Now, I agree with Mitch McConnell on approximately nothing policy-wise. But he’s a smarter politician than a lot of guys on our side. And he, at least, believes “you can campaign” against civilian law “anywhere in the country.” Including Massachusetts. And, presumably, Connecticut.

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Republicans Trashing Law Enforcement because It Polls Well

The best explanation for why, after having been briefed that underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was in FBI custody (and therefore, anyone who watches TV would know, mirandized), Republicans more recently started attacking the Obama Administration for having mirandized Abdulmutallab is this:

Republicans discovered the renewed power of terrorism in last month’s special Senate election in Massachusetts. Neil Newhouse, the pollster for the Republican victor, Scott Brown, said voters responded to the way Mr. Brown framed the issue, supporting him 63 percent to 26 percent when told he favored charging suspected terrorists as enemy combatants in a military tribunal while his Democratic opponent would give them constitutional rights and a civilian trial.

“This moved voters more than the health care issue did,” Mr. Newhouse said. “The terrorism stuff resonated, and it wasn’t just from the advertising we did.”

In fact, Mitch McConnell all but admitted that he was hitting the Administration on civilian court issues because of Scott Brown’s election in response to a question he was asked on February 3.

“If this approach of putting these people in U.S. courts doesn’t sell in Massachusetts, I don’t know where it sells,” he told a questioner.

He added: “You can campaign on these issues anywhere in America.”

That is, Republicans are attacking law enforcement–even as they have succeeded in getting Abdulmutallab’s cooperation quicker than it took the torturers to get false information out of KSM–because it polls well, because Scott Brown won on a pro-waterboarding platform.

Here’s the timeline:

December 25, 2009: Abdulmutallab attempts to bomb plane; after refusing to talk, FBI reads Miranda warning; John Brennan briefs Republican leadership that Abdulmutallab in FBI custody; FBI tells intelligence partners it will charge Abdulmutallab criminally, to no objections

December 26, 2009: FBI again tells intelligence partners it will charge Abdulmutallab criminally, to no objections

January 1, 2010: Two FBI agents fly to Nigeria to seek help from Abdulmutallab’s family

January 4, 2010: Scott Brown embraces water-boarding, advocates trying Abdulmutallab in military commission

January 5, 2010: Administration considers, but rejects, possibility of treating Abdulmutallab as enemy combatant

January 7, 2010: Obama Administration releases report of what went wrong on terror attack

January 8-10. 2010: 57% surveyed prefer military commission to civilian trial

January 17, 2010: Two Abdulmutallab family members fly back to Detroit to convince him to cooperate

January 19, 2010: Scott Brown wins special election

January 20, 2010: Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins hold hearing on Christmas bombing; Collins complains about information sharing, not Miranda warning; Blair says not consulted before Miranda read, says new interrogation team should have made decision though it is not yet functional

Several days after his family arrives: Abdulmutallab begins to cooperate

January 25, 2010: Lieberman and Collins write letter attacking FBI for giving Miranda warning

January 27, 2010: Mitch McConnell and others write Holder complaining about Miranda warning

January 30, 2010: Susan Collins attacks Obama for Miranda warning in weekly radio address

February 2, 2010: Mueller tells SSCI Abdulmutallab is cooperating

February 3, 2010: Holder responds to Republican critics; Mitch McConnell attacks “law enforcement” approach and later admits it works in campaigns, mentioning Brown’s victory

February 7, 2010: John Brennan reveals that Republican leaders briefed on FBI custody for Abdulmutallab, made no objections

February 9, 2010: John Brennan writes op-ed, “We need no lectures.”

Supreme Court Unleashes Corporate Campaign Cash In Citizen's United Decision

images5thumbnail1.thumbnail11The stunning and decisive loss by Martha Coakley to Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate special election has already caused a tsunami of fear among Democrats, and corresponding joy among Republicans, heading toward next fall’s midterm elections. If you think this is cause for concern for Democrats looking forward to the 2010 midterm elections, picture the scene if the Republican party were also able to benefit from removal of restrictions on corporate and financial industry cash infused into their electoral coffers heading into the midterms and 2012 Presidential election.

As I wrote back last August, the Supreme Court took very unusual steps in a case by the name of Citizens United v. FEC to craft a case – originally argued on separate grounds – into a vehicle to make a Supreme Court declaration on the constitutionality of campaign finance restrictions and regulations. As Adam Cohen of the New York Times put it:

If the ban is struck down, corporations may soon be writing large checks to the same elected officials whom they are asking to give them bailouts or to remove health-and-safety regulations from their factories or to insert customized loopholes into the tax code.

Citizens United v. FEC was originally argued on March 24, 2009; but subsequently noticed for re-argument on the new grounds involving the opening of corporate campaign contributions on September 9, 2009. The general consensus among the cognoscenti is that the Justices were leaning heavily toward blowing up the regulations and restrictions on corporate campaign contributions. For a complete blow by blow procedural and substantive history leading up to the decision, see Lyle Denniston’s SCOTUSWiki on this case.

Well, the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission is in and attached hereto. As you can see, it is a 5-4 split decision with Justice Kennedy writing the majority opinion. The decision below is reversed in part and affirmed in part, and the seminal case of Austin v, Michigan is hereby overruled as is that part of McConnell v. FEC which upheld the resitrictions on independent corporate expenditures. In dissent, and/or partial dissent is Justice Stevens, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Breyer. Justice Thomas also filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

Today’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC abolishes the previously settled distinction between corporate and individual expenditures in American elections and would appear to apply to state and local elections as well as Federal ones given that the Court recognizes such a First Amendment right. This is literally an earth shattering change in the lay of the land in campaign finance, and it will have ramifications in every way imaginable for the foreseeable future.

Quoting a very interested observer, Senator Russ Feingold, he of McCain-Feingold fame, John Nichols had this to say in The Nation:

But U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who has been in the forefront of campaign-finance reform efforts for the better part of two decades, is worried.

“This would be in my view, a lawless decision from the Supreme Court,” says the senator who gave his name to the McCain-Feingold law. “Part of me says I can’t believe they’ll do it, but there’s some indication they might, and that means the whole idea of respecting the previous decisions of the Supreme Court won’t mean anything anymore.”

A lawyer who chairs the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feingold notes with regard to controls on corporate campaigning: “These things were argued in 1907, when they passed the ban on corporate treasuries. It was argued in 1947, Taft-Hartley did this. The Supreme Court has affirmed over and over again that it’s not part of free speech that corporations and unions can use their treasuries (to buy elections).”

If the court does overturn both law and precedent to advance a corporate Read more