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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

Supreme Court Blocks Video Coverage Of Prop 8 Trial

images5thumbnail1.thumbnail11On Monday morning, the Supreme Court entered a stay order halting the live video feed of the groundbreaking Proposition 8 trial to other Federal courthouses as well as the delayed release of video clips from the trial via YouTube. I indicated back then that the history and blinding self interest of the Supreme Court in not allowing the encroachment of video into Federal courts because of the abiding fear it will lead to video in their own hallowed and august courtrooms. God forbid the citizens of the country be able to see what their public servants are doing; and public servants is exactly what Supreme Court Justices, for all their self righteous bluster, are.

Today, in an opinion just released in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, those fears came true.

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog summarizes the situation perfectly:

Splitting 5-4, the Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked any television broadcast to the general public of the San Francisco federal court challenge to California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The stay will remain in effect until the Court rules on a coming appeal challenging the TV order. The Court, chastizing the trial court for attempting “to change its rules at the eleventh hour,” issued an unsigned 17-page opinion. The ruling came out nearly 40 minutes after an earlier temporary order blocking TV had technically expired.

The Court gave the supporters of the Prop 8 ban two options to seek a final order against the television coverage: they could (as they have indicated they would) file a petition for review from the lower courts’ orders), or they could file a petition seeking what is called a “writ of mandamus” — that is, an order from a higher to a lower court to take, or not take, some action. The Court did not indicate whether it would grant review of either approach, although Wednesday’s order was a fairly strong hint that it would.

This spells the end of any hope of video coverage of the Prop 8 trial, whether it be live stream to other Federal courthouses or the delayed release of YouTube segments. It is curious that the Supreme Court is fine with a video feed to other locations in the same courthouse as the trial, but not to other secure Federal courthouses. Again, it must be assumed this is all about insuring that the objecting five pompous justices never have to have their demeanor and conduct seen by the citizens they serve. As I explained in the previous post, the Supreme Court, in Chandler v. Florida, has already admitted it is not about constitutional due process; therefore it is, whether admitted or not, about their vanity and elitism.

When the Supreme Court, in its opinion, says:

We are asked to stay the broadcast of a federal trial. We resolve that question withoiut expession any view on whether such trials shold be broadcast. We instead determine that the broadcast in this case should be stayed because it appears the courts below did not follow the appropriate procedures set forth in federal law before changing their rules to allow such broadcasting. Courts enforce the requirements of procedural regularity on others, and must follow those requirements ourselves.

it sure strikes me that the Court’s basis for finding the Local rule was violated, or inappropriately amended, is strained. At best. Others may differ, but for my money, this Read more

SCOTUS Scuttles Prop 8 Video Coverage; The History Behind The Denial

images5thumbnail1.thumbnail1As you may have heard (See here and here), the Supreme Court has entered a last minute stay to put a hold on the video feed of the seminal Prop 8 trial in the Norther District of California (NDCA) to select other Federal courthouses in the country as well as the delayed release of video clips of the proceedings via YouTube.

This is the full text of the order issued by the Supremes:

Upon consideration of the application for stay presented to Justice Kennedy and by him referred to the Court, it is ordered that the order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, case No. 3:09-cv-02292, permitting real-time streaming is stayed except as it permits streaming to other rooms within the confines of the courthouse in which the trial is to be held. Any additional order permitting broadcast of the proceedings is also stayed pending further order of this Court. To permit further consideration in this Court, this order will remain in effect until Wednesday, January 13, 2010, at 4 p.m. eastern time.

Justice Breyer, dissenting.

I agree with the Court that further consideration is warranted, and I am pleased that the stay is time limited. However, I would undertake that consideration without a temporary stay in place. This stay prohibits the transmission of proceedings to other federal courthouses. In my view, the Court’s standard for granting a stay is not met. See Conkright v. Frommert, 556 U. S. ___, ___ (2009) (slip op., at 1–2) (Ginsburg, J., in chambers). In particular, the papers filed, in my view, do not show a likelihood of “irreparable harm.” With respect, I dissent.

This is, to say the least, a disappointing ruling. It had been my guess that Anthony Kennedy would field the issue, which went directly to him as the hot judge for emergency matters from the 9th Circuit, and see it as a matter within the discretion of the 9 Circuit and let them make the call, which they had done in favor of video dissemination. For those not aware, this idea of video from the courtroom was not germinated from the Prop 8 trial, even though that has been the focal point. Instead, the pilot program was the brainchild of the 9th circuit Judicial Conference, as described in this LA Times article from late last year:

Federal courts in California and eight other Western states will allow video camera coverage of civil proceedings in an experiment aimed at increasing public understanding of the work of the courts, the chief judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Thursday.

The decision by the court’s judicial council, headed by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, is in response to recommendations made to the court two years ago and ends a 1996 ban on the taking of photographs or transmitting of radio or video broadcasts.

“We hope that being able to see and hear what transpires in the courtroom will lead to a Read more

Revenge of Article III

We’ve talked about this in threads, but I just wanted to pull out all the bits of Anthony Kennedy’s opinion that really address separation of powers and rule of law, in addition the question of Gitmo and Habeas more directly. Kennedy bases much of his argument on separation of powers on the reminder that since Marbury v. Madison, it has been the Court’s duty–and not that of Congress or the President–to determine what the law is.

Our basic charter cannot be contracted away like this [claiming the US had no sovereignty over Gitmo because we ceded it to Cuba then leased it back]. The Constitution grants Congress and the President the power to acquire, dispose of, and govern territory, not the power to decide when and where its terms apply. Even when the United States acts outside its borders, its powers are not “absolute and unlimited” but are subject “to such restrictions as are expressed in the Constitution.” Murphy v. Ramsey, 114 U. S. 15, 44 (1885). Abstaining from questions involving formal sovereignty and territorial governance is one thing. To hold the political branches have the power to switch the Constitution on or off at will is quite another. The former position reflects this Court’s recognition that certain matters requiring political judgments are best left to the political branches. The latter would permit a striking anomaly in our tripartite system of government, leading to a regime in which Congress and the President, not this Court, say “what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803).

Within that context, he describes habeas corpus as a mechanism which has been historically designed to check the power of the political branches.

These concerns have particular bearing upon the Suspension Clause question in the cases now before us, for the writ of habeas corpus is itself an indispensable mechanism for monitoring the separation of powers. The test for determining the scope of this provision must not be subject to manipulation by those whose power it is designed to restrain.

As such, only the Court can determine the proper boundaries of habeas corpus, not Congress or the President.

Read more