Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Supreme Court Justice John Stevens and our Horrible National Nightmare

Okay, I won’t go on and on after today, but this Supreme Court decision has really ticked me off!
by Charlie Leck

It appears that Justice John Stevens will resign from the Supreme Court after this term. He is going to go away an angry and unhappy man. Perhaps no decision has engaged his wrath more than Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

You’ve read several pieces here (3 of the 4 most recent blog posts), reviling the stupidity of the decision and wondering how an unprejudiced court could have read and interpreted the Constitution of the United States in the manner it did – at least as the 5 conservative justices of the court did.

Nothing we wrote here could match the tough reaction from Justice Stevens himself, who wrote the dissenting minority opinion.

“The rule announced today — that Congress must treat corporations exactly like human speakers in the political realm — represents a radical change in the law,” Justice Stevens said from the bench. “The court’s decision is at war with the views of generations of Americans.”

“The only relevant thing that has changed since those two decisions,” he wrote, “is the composition of this court.”

He was referring to two major campaign finance decisions on which previous courts had spoken.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens took his seat on the highest court in the land in 1975. He is now the court's most senior member in terms of both years of service and age. It is clear to all that he is beginning to fail in small ways, sometimes, for instance, struggling to pronounce words and stumbling when he reads aloud. He clearly speaks his mind and doesn’t show typical judicial restraint.

“The majority blazes through our precedents,” Justice Stevens wrote in commenting on the prevailing opinion, “overruling or disavowing a body of case law.”

That body included seven previous decisions.

It was Richard Nixon who appointed Stevens to the Seventh Circuit appeals court in 1970. President Gerald Ford appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1975. Stevens, in those first years on the bench of the high court, would never have been considered a liberal on issues that came before him. As the court grew more and more conservative during the years the Republicans controlled the White House, Stevens appeared to be more liberal in relation to the new justices.

In this most recent, controversial decision, Justice Stevens, could not contain his outrage at the majority’s conclusion that no real legal distinction can be made between a corporation and a person in the political realm.

“Such an assumption,” he wrote, “would have accorded the propaganda broadcasts to our troops by ‘Tokyo Rose’ during World War II the same protection as speech by Allied commanders.”

The concluding sentence of the minority decision, written by Stevens, exhibits the depth of his anger.

“While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

Hooray for John Stevens!

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