Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

The Supreme Court’s rulings last week on abortion, a gun violence prevention measure, and public funding of religious institutions reflect a political and ideological agenda, not a coherent legal or judicial philosophy, as I will discuss below. All of them overturned long-standing precedents – something all of the justices had pledged not to do in their confirmation hearings. There are three important areas where the contradictory nature of the reasoning underlying these rulings is most evident:

  • Belief in a weak federal government and strong state governments,
  • Belief in “originalism,” i.e., that the language and meaning of the Constitution and its amendments as and when written should be adhered to, and
  • Belief in the legality of precedents and rights unspecified in the Constitution only if they reflect long-standing practices in the country.

In this post, I’ll explore the belief in a weak federal government and strong state governments as a rationale for the justices’ rulings and demonstrate their inconsistent and contradictory use it. I’ll cover the other rationales in subsequent posts.

Conservatives have traditionally supported a weak federal government and strong state governments. However, for the six justices in the majority in each of these recent rulings their commitment to this belief seems to depend on the issue.

There are two main pillars behind the weak federal and strong state government position. One is support for “states’ rights;” leaving as much of the public sector role and policy making to lower levels of government that are closer to the grassroots. Having control of schools and elections in local and state hands are two bedrock conservative examples of this. The exercise of “states’ rights” has, both historically and currently, reflected racism. Racism was an important component of “states’ rights” politics in the 1960s as it was pushback against federal Civil Rights laws, including voting rights and school desegregation.

The second pillar of conservative support for a weak federal government is opposition to regulation of businesses and the private sector. Conservatives typically believe that an economy that is as unfettered by government regulation as possible will be the most productive (if not necessarily the fairest). They also typically believe in market place and private sector solutions to social issues (e.g., privatization), not government programs as solutions.

In the June 24, 2022, ruling overturning Roe v. Wade’s establishment of a right to an abortion, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not constitutionally guarantee this right. On the face of it, this reflects a belief in a weak federal government and a “states’ rights” approach where policies on abortion would be left to state governments. However, Alito’s opinion seems to go out of its way to ensure that anti-abortion advocates could pursue a nationwide, federal ban on abortion (i.e., a strong federal government role) by repeatedly writing that the abortion debate is being returned “to the people and their elected representatives.”  He does not write that the decision is being returned to the states. The implication is that those “elected representatives” could be those in Congress. Therefore, within this one decision and opinion, Alito and the five other concurring justices are at best unclear and at worst contradictory about whether they believe the Constitution creates a strong or weak federal government in relation to the states, at least in realm of abortion law. [1]

The Supreme Court’s June 23, 2022, decision declaring unconstitutional New York State’s requirements for obtaining a permit to carry a gun in public is an assertion of a strong federal government with the power to overrule states’ laws regulating guns. The Court is furthering federal enforcement of an individual “right” to bear arms based on its interpretation of the Second Amendment. (I discussed the problems with their interpretation of the Second Amendment in this previous post and won’t go into them here.) This ruling overturns a state law that has been in place for over 100 years and effectively renders any state law restricting ownership or carrying of a gun presumptively unconstitutional. The ruling, among other problems, seems to ignore the language of the Second Amendment that the right to bear arms is predicated on “being necessary for the security of a free State.” A state and the people living in it are neither more secure nor freer with an expanded “right” of individuals to carrying guns in public. [2]

On June 21, 2022, the Supreme Court issued a ruling ordering the state of Maine to allow public dollars to pay for children’s attendance at religious schools. Putting aside for the moment the First Amendment language that prohibits the government from making any “law respecting an establishment of religion” (as the six deciding justices apparently did), this ruling reflects a belief in a strong federal government that can tell states how to spend their money. This is the antithesis of “states’ rights” and a weak federal government, which conservatives typically support. This follows a pattern of decisions where the Supreme Court has overturned decades-old, affirmed precedents and ordered state or local governments to take actions that benefit or support religious groups. In Missouri, the Court ordered the state to include religious organizations in a program funding playground maintenance. In Montana, it ordered the state to include religious schools in a scholarship tax credit. It ordered Boston to include Christian groups in a program allowing non-profit organizations to fly a flag on a city flagpole. [3] Most recently, it ruled that a Washington state school district had to allow a football coach to lead players and others in prayer on the football field, despite students reporting that they felt coerced. [4] (I wonder how the Court would rule if the religious group asking for government support were Jewish, Muslim, or some other non-Christian religion. We may find out one of these days.)

One final note. Election laws and the running of elections (along with schools) have been hallmarks of conservatives’ insistence on state responsibility and control with no or very limited federal government involvement. In recent years, the Supreme Court has overturned the Voting Rights Act, stopping federal oversight of election laws in states that had (and have) a history of discriminating against Black voters. It has refused to intervene as states have engaged in voter suppression and extreme gerrymandering with political and racial goals. However, back in 2000, the Supreme Court stepped into the presidential election in Florida (in Bush v. Gore) and ordered the state to stop counting ballots. The dissenting justices and many others identified this decision as a turning point when the “conservative” justices on the Court first displayed in a dramatic way their willingness to cast aside any coherent judicial philosophy or reasoning, upend precedent, and issue a ruling to achieve the political result they personally supported.

The recent rulings by these six Supreme Court justices (Roberts, Alito, Barrett, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Thomas) are clearly political and ideological, if for no other reason than the judicial philosophy and reasoning behind them is inconsistent and contradictory. Given the lack of a coherent judicial philosophy or reasoning, the only rational conclusion I can come to, is that these justices are acting on the basis of their personal political and ideological beliefs and sympathies, and not as judges upholding the laws established by the legislative and executive branches of government. Rather, they are dramatically legislating from the bench; something conservatives used to criticize others for doing. They are radical reactionaries, not conservatives. (See this previous post for more detail on why this is appropriate terminology for describing them.)

In my next posts, I will review the six radical, reactionary Supreme Court justices’ contradictory and inconsistent uses of their supposed beliefs in “originalism” and in the legality of precedents and rights unspecified in the Constitution only if they reflect long-standing practices in the country.

In the meantime, Heather Cox Richardson has posted a 33-minute reflection on the state of our (supposed) democracy after the recent momentous and anti-democratic decisions by the Supreme Court. Her commentary and perspective are, as always, thoughtful, poignant, and steeped in history. I encourage you to listen to all or part of it (perhaps the last ten minutes if you’re short on time). I’ve linked to it on my Facebook page:

[1]      Hubbell, R., 5/4/22, “The hard path forward,” Today’s Edition Newsletter (

[2]      Johnson, J., 6/23/22, “ ‘Devastating’: Supreme Court blows massive hole in state gun control efforts,” Common Dreams (

[3]      Atkins Stohr, K., 6/22/22, “Remember separation of church and state? Apparently the Supreme Court doesn’t.” The Boston Globe

[4]      Conley, J., 6/27/22, “Supreme Court takes ‘wrecking ball’ to separation of church and state with prayer ruling,” Common Dreams (


Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

The gun industry has a powerful influence on policy making in the US as well as in shaping judicial rulings on gun laws and the discussion of guns and gun violence.

Part of the gun industry’s power and influence comes from its size and its ability and willingness to spend on political campaigns and lobbying. It produces roughly 10 million guns per year, resulting in sales revenue of about $12 billion. With profits of approximately $1 billion annually, it has spent $120 million on lobbying over the last ten years. In the two-year 2020 election cycle, the advocacy groups associated with the gun industry spent over $18 million on election campaigns. While the National Rifle Association (NRA) was the source of $5 million of this spending, it has been declining in membership and financial clout. However, other gun advocacy groups have been picking up much of the slack. [1]

For example, the organization Gun Owners of America has been increasing its activity. It opposes the U.S. House passed Protect Our Kids Act as well as the emerging bipartisan Senate proposal to address gun violence. It has “concern” about expanded waiting periods on gun purchases and red flag laws that would allow courts to remove guns from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. It opposes the proposal to ban untraceable “ghost” guns and is spreading misinformation about what it would do. [2]

Another piece of the gun industry’s power comes from its shaping of the discussion of guns and the Second Amendment. It has shifted the discussion from a well-regulated militia, e.g., the National Guard, to an individual right to ownership of any and all types of guns. It also shifted the discussion from the security of the state to personal self-defense. (See this previous post for more detail.) This shift in language, especially to an individual’s supposed right to own a gun (including a semi-automatic assault weapon), is pervasive in the media, widespread in the court system, and even echoed by Democrats and President Biden.

The 2008 Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 decision that created an individual right to possess a firearm, District of Columbia vs. Heller, overturned 217 years of interpretation of the Second Amendment and numerous court precedents allowing restrictions on an individual’s possession of a gun. It was described by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford) as “unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Supreme Court announced during my tenure on the bench,” which extended 35 years from 1975 – 2010.

Former Chief Justice Warren Burger (appointed by Republican President Richard Nixon) called the gun industry’s and the NRA’s promotion of this interpretation of the Second Amendment “One of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” These two statements by conservative, former Supreme Court Justices underscore the hypocrisy of the supposed originalism of the supporters of this interpretation, who ignore the first two phrases of the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Nonetheless, the media, the courts, essentially all Republicans, and even most Democrats speak of the individual right to bear arms as an unquestioned constitutional right. Questioning this interpretation of the Second Amendment or citing Justices Stevens’ and Burger’s statements about it are almost completely absent from the discourse. Based on this manufactured right, the Supreme Court seems all but certain to make a ruling this month that will find unconstitutional a New York law, in place since 1913, that requires someone carrying a concealed gun in public to have a permit.

It appears that the originalist judicial philosophy (supposedly underlying this interpretation of the Second Amendment as creating an individual right to bear arms) was invented as an intellectual smokescreen to justify this and other radical, reactionary judicial rulings. The originalists claim that the Constitution’s language, including on rights, freedom, and liberty, should always and forever be interpreted with the meaning they had in 1791 (when African Americans were slaves) or in 1868 when the 14th Amendment was passed (when women had no rights and almost all schools were segregated). [3] Such a claim seems ludicrous on its face and the Supreme Court rulings by its adherents are radical, reactionary, and inconsistent. The failure of the media and Democrats to point out these facts is hard to understand.

The gun industry also displays its power on the Internet and social media, which have certainly played a role in fomenting the American gun culture and even gun violence. Given that most TV networks, magazines, and newspapers banned gun ads years ago, digital advertising via Google and other Internet sites is essential to the gun industry’s marketing.

In 2004, based on Google’s corporate value “don’t be evil” and as a matter of ethics, Google’s cofounder Sergey Brin announced that gun ads would be banned. Nonetheless, Google’s ad systems have provided billions of views of gun makers’ ads since then. A study by the independent, non-profit, investigative journalism organization ProPublica found that between March 9 and June 6, 2022 (90 days), the fifteen largest gun sellers in the U.S. placed ads through Google that produced 120 million impressions (i.e., the displaying of an  ad to a viewer). [4] This is an average of roughly 1.3 million views of a gun ad per day.

Every time an ad is viewed, Google earns a small fee. Some of the gun ads have appeared on Google’s own sites, a clear breach of Google’s stated policy. However, the vast majority of them are placed via a long-standing and well-known loophole in Google’s policy. Although Google bans gun ads on its own ad network and on sites it owns, ads sold by partners but placed using Google’s systems are not restricted by Google.

Gun makers and sellers can use Google’s advertising system to place gun ads on websites that allow gun ads. This is where the vast majority of gun ads show up.

Although a website owner can theoretically ban certain types of ads, such as gun ads, Google’s ad systems’ enforcement of such a ban has loopholes. Most notably, if a person has visited a gun maker’s website, Google’s tools facilitate the tracking of that person as they browse other sites. When that person is at another website, one that may ban gun ads, this tracking and targeting tool can display a gun ad. This retargeting (as it’s called) of a person is a loophole Google purposefully built into its advertising system over a decade ago.

For example, although Publishers Clearing House does not accept gun ads, in a recent three-month period roughly 4.6 million views of ads for Savage Arms guns occurred on the Publishers Clearing House website. Gun ads have also been documented as showing up on websites such as The Denver Post, Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the Britannica, U.S. News & World Report, Ultimate Classic Rock, Parent Influence (on an article about “How to handle teen drama), and on Baby Games (amid brightly colored kids’ games), as well as on recipe sites and quiz game sites.

Google makes money on each of the hundreds of millions of views each year of gun ads. Note that Google dominates the digital advertising world with 28.6% of total digital ad revenue in the U.S.; Facebook has 23.8% and Amazon 11.3%, giving the big three an overwhelming 63.7% of the market. Therefore, gun ads via Google’s advertising systems are important both to the gun industry and to Google’s revenue.

[1]      Siders, D., & Fuchs, H., 6/10/22, “The NRA isn’t the only group advocating for the Second Amendment,” Politico (

[2]      Giorno, T., 6/14/22, “Gun Owners of America pushes back on bipartisan gun control legislation,” Open Secrets (

[3]      Mogulescu, M., 6/6/22, “It’s time for Democrats to stop agreeing that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms,” Common Dreams (

[4]      Silverman, C., &Talbot, R., 6/14/22, “Google says it bans gun ads. It actually makes money from them.” ProPublica (


Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

The rash of recent gun violence has refocused attention on the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which reads:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The radical reactionaries on the Supreme Court, who are supposedly “originalists,”  have interpreted this language as giving individuals the right to bear arms and an individual right to security through armed self-defense.

Somehow the “originalists” have forgotten (or choose to ignore) the first two phrases of the amendment’s language which link the right to bear arms to a well-regulated militia and the security of the state. Clearly, the original writers of the Second Amendment did NOT have in mind the right of each individual, on his or her own, to bear arms. And they had no possible conception that arms would include semi-automatic weapons that could fire multiple bullets per second; the arms they knew took many seconds to reload for a second shot. So much for originalism! (I’ll write more about the hypocrisy of the “originalists” on the Supreme Court in a future post.)

Actually, what the writers of the Second Amendment had in mind was security against slave revolts. The Second Amendment was pushed by Patrick Henry (Governor of Virginia) and George Mason (intellectual leader of the anti-Constitution anti-federalists). They were worried that the new Constitution would give the federal government the sole power to form militias, preventing states and local entities from doing so. They were also concerned that Northerners would dominate the new federal government. Given that parts of Virginia, for example, had more enslaved Blacks than Whites, Henry and Mason (and others) wanted to ensure that southern states had the power to form militias to protect white slave owners from slave revolts. [1] Therefore, if there’s any originalism in the right-wing justices’ support of an individual right to bear arms, it’s originalism that has strong racist overtones.

The ”originalists” supposedly don’t support any evolution of the meaning of the Constitution over time; according to them, it’s the original language and intent of the writers that should govern judicial decision making. Furthermore, a leading “originalist,” Justice Alito, just wrote in his draft decision overturning Roe vs. Wade, that for an unwritten right to be legitimate, it must be deeply rooted in the nation’s history and have been understood to exist when the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. Under either of these originalist principles, an individual right to bear arms, particularly the types of arms available today, would be impossible to assert in a truly originalist interpretation of the Constitution. Again, so much for honest originalism!

A constitutional right to individual gun ownership is a relatively new interpretation of the Second Amendment, invented by the gun industry in the 1970s and aided and abetted by the National Rifle Association (NRA). It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the Republican Party adopted support of individual gun ownership as a core belief and policy position. In the 1960s, Republicans were strong supporters of gun control, in part because they were strong supporters of law and order. Furthermore, during the 1960s, with the rise of the Black Power movement and pushback from the Black community against racism by police, Republicans were concerned about Blacks having guns. So, for example, in 1967, California passed the Mulford Act, the most sweeping gun control law in the country. It banned personal possession of a firearm without a permit and was signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan. At the federal level, the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed, which restricted the sale of firearms across state lines. Neither of these laws raised any constitutional concerns at the time.

Until 1959, every legal article about the Second Amendment concluded that it was not intended to guarantee an individual’s right to own a gun. In the 1970s, legal scholars funded by the gun and ammunition industry, and their front group the NRA, began to make the argument that the Second Amendment did establish an individual right to gun ownership. [2]

In 1972, the Republican Party’s policy platform supported gun laws restricting the sale of handguns. However, in 1975, as he geared up to challenge President Gerald Ford for the 1976 presidential nomination, Ronald Reagan took a stand against gun control.

In 1977, an at-the-time radical wing of the NRA took control of the organization and shifted its focus from marksmanship and responsible gun ownership by hunters to assertion of a right to individual ownership of guns for self-defense and to opposition to any restrictions on gun ownership. In 1980, the Republican Party platform opposed the federal registration of firearms for the first time and the NRA, for the first time, endorsed a presidential candidate: Republican Ronald Reagan. This led to the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986, which repealed much of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and dramatically weakened federal gun control. Ironically, it was signed into law by President Reagan (who 19 years earlier had signed California’s strong gun control law).

Nonetheless, after three mass shootings in four years, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 included a ban on assault weapons and large capacity  ammunition magazines, as they had been used in the mass shootings and were key to making  the horrific carnage possible. However, this ban had a ten-year sunset provision. Therefore, the ban expired in 2004 and has not been renewed despite numerous attempts to do so.

These are key elements of the history of the Second Amendment and policies on gun ownership that have gotten us to where we are today. There have been over 230 mass shootings in the US already in 2022 – well over one per day. (A mass shooting is defined as one where four or more people are injured or killed, not including the shooter.) There were 20 in the week after the May 24th Uvalde, TX, school shooting. In the 230 mass shootings so far this year, 256 people have been killed and 1,010 injured. Historically, there were nearly 700 mass shootings in 2021, a significant increase from 611 in 2020 and 417 in 2019. [3]

I urge you to speak out and act out however you are comfortable to contribute to the movement to take strong action to reduce gun violence in this country. Nowhere else in the world does civilian gun violence take anywhere near the toll that it does in the US. Other countries have and are taking strong, effective steps to reduce gun violence. We can too. We have a long way to go; the sooner we start the better.

[1]      Mystal, E., 2022, “Allow me to retort: A Black guy’s guide to the Constitution,” NY, NY. The New Press.

[2]      Richardson, H. C., 5/24/22, “Letters from an American blog,” (

[3]      Ledur, J., & Rabinowitz, K., 6/3/22, “There have been over 200 mass shootings so far in 2022,” The Washington Post


Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

There’s a lack of ethics at the U.S. Supreme Court, both in terms of the justices themselves and in the Chief Justice’s oversight of the federal judiciary. Unlike every other member of state and federal judiciaries, the Supreme Court’s nine justices aren’t subject to ethics rules or a code of conduct, not even the ones that govern the rest of the federal judiciary. Requests for them to subject themselves to those rules have fallen on deaf ears and efforts in Congress to impose ethical standards have gone nowhere.

The 1978 Ethics in Government Act, passed in the aftermath of President Nixon’s Watergate scandal, does require the justices to file annual disclosure statements of their and family members’ financial interests. Nonetheless, Justice Thomas had to amend 20 years of disclosure statements to indicate that his wife had received hundreds of thousands of dollars of income from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. He has repeatedly been criticized for not recusing himself in cases where he appeared to have a conflict of interest based on his wife’s financial interests. [1]

There also have been issues with conflicts of interest due to justices’ ownership of stock in corporations with business before the court. For example, in 2016, Chief Justice Roberts had two instances of such conflicts. In a case involving Microsoft, he disclosed well after that fact that he had sold over $250,000 of Microsoft stock in the year prior to hearing the case. He also participated in a case involving Texas Instruments while owning over $100,000 worth of company stock. He admitted after the fact that he should have recused himself on that case.

At least four current justices have book deals worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Federal employment guidelines say that justices can’t accept more than $30,000 annually in outside pay. However, book income is exempt, but, nonetheless, it has potential conflicts of interest.

Nearly every justice has been questioned at one point or another on ethical issues such as appearing at partisan events or fundraisers, or accepting travel packages or other gifts. Justice Gorsuch just gave a speech at the annual conference of the politically active, powerful, conservative legal group, the Federalist Society. His speech was the only part of the conference program that was closed to the media. Without a code of conduct that indicates what’s appropriate and what isn’t, it’s up to each individual justice’s discretion (or lack thereof).

For the rest of the federal judiciary, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, has responsibility for overseeing its ethical standards and practices. Despite numerous examples of federal judges with conflicts of interest, in his year-end report on the federal judiciary Roberts argues for “institutional independence” and for the “Judiciary’s power to manage its internal affairs”. [2]

However, the evidence indicates that Chief Justice Roberts and the federal judiciary are NOT doing a good job of managing their internal affairs. In September, the Wall Street Journal reported that between 2010 and 2018, 131 federal judges improperly heard cases involving corporations where they or family members were shareholders. This is, of course, a violation of the conflict-of-interest rules for federal judges. Subsequent to the Wall Street Journal’s reporting, 136 judges have, after the fact, informed parties in 777 cases that they should have recused themselves because of a conflict of interest.

In response to these and other revelations, members of Congress have expressed interest in:

  • Making all federal judges’ financial disclosure statements public (as they are for elected officials) so that conflicts of interest would be apparent,
  • Imposing a code of conduct on the Supreme Court justices,
  • Updating judicial ethics rules and disclosure requirements for all federal judges, including ones governing gifts, such as travel packages, and
  • Imposing civil sanctions on judges who fail to recuse themselves when the judicial code of conduct requires them to do so.

The Roberts report’s only acknowledgement of the conflict-of-interest problems among federal judges is a statement that judicial ethics training programs need to be more rigorous. It also asserts that inappropriate behavior in the judicial workplace (presumably referring to multiple reports of sexual harassment and misconduct) can be addressed with expanded guidance and training.

Given the evidence of a variety of ethical problems at the Supreme Court and in the federal judiciary, Roberts’ call for judicial independence and autonomy sounds like an effort to avoid the standards, accountability, and transparency that would be put in place by a code of conduct for the Supreme Court Justices and by an enhanced code of conduct for the rest of the federal judiciary.

[1]      O’Brien, T. L., 5/2/21, “Supreme Court’s ethics problems are bigger than Coney Barrett,” Bloomberg (

[2]      Mystal, E., 1/24/22, “Roberts gets an F on his annual report,” The Nation (


Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

The radical, reactionary decisions of the Supreme Court’s six-justice majority not only affect society (see my previous post), they have implications for our democracy and the future of the Court itself. Their decisions undermine the credibility of the Court, the rule of law, and American democracy. They mean that government will not be able to regulate businesses, protect workers, or protect people’s civil rights. They mean that our government will not be able to provide a safety net for individuals when they fall on hard times and will not be able to promote public health and infrastructure.

The way the Supreme Court is making decisions is undermining its credibility and eroding respect for it among the public. The majority of the Court’s decisions since 2017 have been on the “shadow docket,” i.e., decisions made without the benefit of written or oral arguments. These decisions are often made and released in the dead of night, and often with an unsigned written statement (aka opinion). These opinions are typically short and fail to present a rationale for the decision. They almost exclusively advance a right-wing political agenda. Prior to 2017, such emergency rulings were rare and were used for uncontroversial decisions or when time was of the essence, such as death penalty executions. In less than three years, the Trump administration filed for at least 28 such rulings (an average of almost 9 per year), while there were only eight in the previous 16 years (an average of one every other year). [1]

The Court is emasculating the rule of law and degrading American democracy. It is failing to enforce federal laws, making decisions without considering the merits of cases, and allowing states to do as they please, even when they violate the Constitution and people’s rights. As Justice Sotomayor wrote in her dissent on the case on the Texas law limiting pregnancy terminations, “The Court should not be so content to ignore its constitutional obligations to protect not only the rights of women, but also the sanctity of its precedents and of the rule of law.” [2]

Justice Kagan, in her dissent on the Texas case, noted that the Court’s recent actions, “which every day becomes more unreasoned,  inconsistent, and impossible to defend,” are undermining the legitimacy of the Court. She noted, by way of example, that the Court failed to intervene to protect the rights of millions of Texas women, despite having intervened aggressively to protect alleged religious rights, such as when a California church had been prohibited from meeting in-person by Covid restrictions. Since Justice Barrett was seated in October 2020, the Court has issued seven emergency injunctions (e.g., blocking state coronavirus restrictions), while only four such injunctions had been issued during the previous 15 years of Justice Robert’s tenure. [3]

Making things even worse, the Supreme Court is treating its shadow docket decisions, promulgated without any reasoning to back them up, as creating new legal precedents that lower courts must follow. According to precedent, shadow docket cases do not establish new law, in part because the merits of the case have not been argued and considered. However, the current Court has had no problem asserting that its shadow docket decisions establish new law and legal precedents, particularly when infringements of religious rights have been alleged.

Given that the Court is ruling inconsistently, ignoring even its own recent precedents, making decisions without hearing or considering the merits of a cases, and promulgating its decisions without justifications, it is clear that the Court is advancing an ideological and partisan political agenda and not a legal one. This dramatically undermines the legitimacy of the Court and powerfully supports the case for Court reform.

In addition to the behavior of the radical, reactionary majority on the Court, the way two of the justices got on the Court also argues for reform. As you probably remember, in the spring of 2016, Senate Majority Leader McConnell (Republican of Kentucky) refused to even consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for an open seat on the Supreme Court, supposedly because it was an election year and the decision should be left to the new president. This reduced the size of the Court from nine to eight justice for roughly a year. However, when an opening occurred in September, 2020, also an election year, McConnell and the Republicans were happy to rush through the nomination of Amy Barrett, literally days before the election. So, the Republicans stole two seats on the Court and filled them with radical reactionaries.

These appointments raised issues about the appointment process and the lifetime terms of justices, given that it was the deaths of two sitting justices that led to these openings. However, there are other long-term issues with the Supreme Court. For example, there is no Code of Ethics that covers Supreme Court justices; they are exempt from the ethics rules that apply to other federal judges.

President Biden has appointed a Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States to study the issues with the Court and the need for reform. Testimony was received from a long list of people, including Harvard Law Professor Michael J. Klarman, who has written a 260-page Harvard Law Review article on the degradation of American democracy and the Supreme Court’s role in it. In his testimony to the Commission, Klarman recommends and provides a strong rationale for: [4]

  • 18-year, non-renewable, staggered terms for justices, so that a seat is filled every two years, and
  • Expanding the Court by four seats immediately.

Others have recommended adding two seats to the Court to make up for the two that were stolen by Republican shenanigans. Robert Hubbell, a retired lawyer, recommends: [5]

  • Expanding the Court, noting that this would require bypassing the filibuster,
  • Limiting the terms of justices,
  • Implementing a code of judicial ethics for the justices, and
  • Limiting the Court’s ability to decide substantive issues on the shadow docket.

I urge you to let your U.S. Representative and Senators, along with President Biden, know that you support reform of the Supreme Court to restore its legitimacy and non-partisan operation. Urge them to push for a strong, substantive report and set of recommendations from the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court to achieve these goals. Then, we will all need to work to ensure that needed changes in the Supreme Court are implemented.

You can find contact information for your U.S. Representative at and for your U.S. Senators at

You can email President Biden via or you can call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 or the switchboard at 202-456-1414.

[1]      Richardson, H. C., 9/1/21, “Letters from an American blog,” (

[2]      Sotomayor, S., 9/3/21, “Sotomayor’s defiant dissent,” The Nation (

[3]      Vladeck, S., 9/3/21, “The Supreme Court doesn’t just abuse its shadow docket. It does so inconsistently,” The Washington Post

[4]      Klarman, M. J., 7/20/21, “Court expansion and other changes to the Court’s composition,” Written statement to the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States (

[5]      Hubbell, R., 9/2/21, “Today’s Edition: Susan Collins should resign in disgrace,” (


Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

My previous post made the case that six of the nine Supreme Court justices (Alito, Barrett, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Roberts, and Thomas) are radical reactionaries both in the content of their rulings and in their decision-making process. This post will outline some of the societal implications of their rulings, particularly the ruling on the Texas law prohibiting most pregnancy terminations.

As you’re probably aware, the Supreme Court blocked a lower court from delaying the implementation of a Texas law restricting pregnancy termination (aka abortion) that is clearly unconstitutional and uses a highly unusual and fraught enforcement mechanism. The Court did so without hearing any arguments on the merits of the case. Implementation of the Texas law, even temporarily, will allow nuisance lawsuits that will probably bankrupt or otherwise put out of business all abortion providers in Texas. The Supreme Court, in an unprecedent action, has allowed immediate implementation of this law despite the facts that it clearly violates a constitutional right and does immediate harm by stopping 85% of pregnancy terminations that happen in Texas.

 The Texas law allows any citizen to sue anyone or any organization that is in any way involved in a pregnancy termination that occurs roughly six weeks or more into a pregnancy. (At six weeks, most women don’t even know they are pregnant yet.) The citizen would get a $10,000 reward or bounty plus reimbursement for legal costs if they win the suit. If the defendant wins the suit, they are not eligible to recover legal costs. This makes a pregnant woman who would like to terminate her pregnancy prey for bounty hunters.

The Texas law encourages and rewards vigilantism, where neighbors sue neighbors. This is the type of “justice” system – with neighbors incriminating neighbors – that totalitarian regimes use to control people. It was used in pre-WWII Germany, in the Soviet Union, and in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, for instance.

This citizen enforcement mechanism was used – as opposed to the normal use of public law enforcement agencies – specifically to bypass federal judicial oversight and inhibit federal enforcement of a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy as established by the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision. As Justice Sotomayor wrote in her dissent, “Because the Court’s failure to act rewards tactics designed to avoid judicial review and inflicts significant harm on the applicants and on women seeking abortions in Texas, I dissent. … This is untenable. It cannot be that a state can evade federal judicial scrutiny by outsourcing the enforcement of unconstitutional laws to its citizenry.” [1]

As historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote in her blog, “The Republican Party is empowering vigilantes to enforce their beliefs against their neighbors.” [2] With vigilantism already escalating in our country, it needs no encouragement. It is occurring at school board meetings discussing mask mandates, it is being used to intimidate election and public health officials, and it was the foundation of the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Vigilante “justice” and states’ rights (to ignore federal constitutional rights) are what was used to maintain white supremacy in the post-Civil War south. For eighty years, law enforcement in the south depended on your skin color, your gender, and whom you knew. Vigilantes kept Blacks from voting and kept education separate and unequal. Southern vigilantes could literally get away with murder up until the 1960s. [3]

The Supreme Court decision on the Texas pregnancy termination case and decisions on other cases related to religious beliefs and practices are allowing white, Christian religious beliefs to function as civil law. These decisions allow private organizations (e.g., employers and health care providers) and state governments to engage in discrimination and oppression based on religious beliefs in providing (or not providing) women’s health care and services to LGBTQ people, for example. The Texas law encourages and rewards citizens who act based on their religious beliefs about pregnancy termination and sue fellow citizens. [4]

In allowing Texas to implement unconstitutional pregnancy termination restrictions and to avoid federal enforcement of civil rights by empowering citizen enforcement of state laws, the Supreme Court has opened a barn door. This strategy, having been successful at least temporarily in Texas, will almost undoubtedly now be used by other states on this and other issues in ways that violate people’s civil rights. [5]

In summary, the Supreme Court is failing to enforce federal law and uphold civil rights, giving states free rein to ignore the due process and equal protection provisions of the 14th amendment. These are the provisions that allow the federal government to ensure the protections of the Bill of Rights for people, even when a state government tries to undermine them. These Supreme Court decisions mean the federal government cannot protect the rights of people of color, women, religious minorities, or otherwise-abled people. The Supreme Court has handed power over civil rights back to the states and the vigilantes, as it was in the 80 years after the civil war. [6]

It is unclear how this door, now opened, will be closed, but it is clear that reform of the Supreme Court to disempower its radical, reactionary, and ill-gotten majority is an essential part of that process.

In my next post, I will discuss the implications of the behavior of the Court’s radical reactionaries for the legitimacy and future of the Court. I’ll also present possible solutions to the current unprecedented and undemocratic actions of the Court.

[1]      Sotomayor, S., 9/3/21, “Sotomayor’s defiant dissent,” The Nation (

[2]      Richardson, H. C., 9/1/21, “Letters from an American blog,” page 2, (

[3]      Richardson, H. C., 9/1/21, see above.

[4]      Hubbell, R., 9/2/21, “Today’s Edition: Susan Collins should resign in disgrace,” (

[5]      Hubbell, R., 8/31/21, “Today’s Edition: The U.S. war in Afghanistan is over,” (

[6]      Richardson, H. C., 9/3/21, “Letters from an American blog,” (


Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

You’ve almost certainly heard about the Texas law prohibiting most pregnancy terminations (aka abortions). It’s blatantly unconstitutional and also radical in multiple ways. I’m not going to discuss the law itself in any detail, rather I want to focus on the behavior of the Supreme Court’s six radical, reactionary justices on this case and others.

Many people refer to the five Supreme Court justices (Alito, Barrett, Gorsuch, Kavanagh, and Thomas) who allowed the Texas law to go into effect and Chief Justice Roberts (who dissented in the Texas case for procedural reasons) as “conservative.” This is not accurate. Although they do fit with political conservatives in favoring free enterprise and private ownership, they do so in a way that ignores the whole post-Depression and post-WWII form of managed capitalism. Somewhat similarly, they only uphold traditional values and social norms if one turns back the clock at least 50 year and probably closer to 100 years. Finally, they are not conservative in terms of being averse to change or innovation, rather they are radical, judicial activists ignoring longstanding precedents and creating wholly new judicial theory and reasoning.

A number of court observers and journalists have taken to calling them “reactionary.” A reactionary holds political views that favor a return to a previous state of society, which they believe possessed positive characteristics that are absent from contemporary society. For example, these justices apparently want to return to the days when:

  • Abortion was banned and women’s roles and decisions were controlled by husbands, restrictive societal norms, and, in some cases, laws.
  • State governments were much more powerful and the federal government couldn’t enforce national laws protecting individuals’ rights, including the rights of people of color, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, and others’ civil rights.

To call those six justices “radical” also seems appropriate as they are clearly upending fundamental principles, precedents, and processes of the Supreme Court and our system of jurisprudence. They have repeatedly shown a lack of respect for precedents that don’t fit their ideology.

Their radicalism isn’t limited to the Texas case or the substance of their decisions, but is also evident in the processes they have used to make numerous significant rulings. For example, rulings in three recent cases were made without hearing the merits of the cases:

  • The Texas pregnancy termination case: failed to stop implementation of a clearly unconstitutional law with a highly unusual enforcement mechanism – deputizing private citizens to sue – that is intended to evade federal judicial oversight.
  • The case on forcing asylum seekers to stay in Mexico: required the Biden administration to enter into an agreement with Mexico on asylum seekers, despite the fact that the Court has no jurisdiction or way to enforce Mexico’s participation. In addition, for the Court to direct the foreign policy of the U.S. is completely unprecedented and does violence to the separation of powers in the Constitution.
  • The termination of the eviction moratorium case: overturned a CDC-driven executive order that will impact the housing and health of millions of people in the face of a pandemic.

In these three cases, and in numerous others, the Supreme Court has issued rulings with significant effects based on procedural matters without the normal full briefing and arguments, which would provide them vital information needed to make an appropriately considered decision. This seems to be the Court’s new strategy for deciding major cases – ruling on procedural motions without hearing the merits of the cases. These rulings are typically unsigned, which is also unusual. Even Chief Justice Roberts, normally part of the radical, reactionary cabal, criticized the rush to judgement in the Texas case without consideration of the merits of the case, writing in his dissenting opinion, “We are at this point asked to resolve these novel questions … in the course of two days, without the benefit of consideration by the District Court or Court of Appeals. We are also asked to do so without ordinary merits briefing and without oral argument.” [1]

The lack of hearings also avoids a public airing of the issues, arguments, facts, and implications of a case and the Court’s decision. This and the fact that a number of the rulings have been issued outside of normal business hours seem to indicate a desire to minimize news coverage, public awareness, and public discussion of cases.

Both the substance of these rulings (and numerous others) and the Court’s failure to hold hearings make it appear that these decisions are based on ideology and politics, not legal precedents, the law, or the merits of the cases. As Robert Hubbell, a retired lawyer writes: “the Supreme Court has dropped all pretense of due process or respect for precedent … to implement the conservative social agenda … without regard to logic, precedent, or the Constitution.” [2]

Another indication that these decisions are partisan is that the Court had no problem with President Trump’s dramatic and sweeping executive orders but finds President Biden’s less dramatic orders unconstitutional. In the Mexico asylees case, the Court ordered Biden to reinstate an agreement with Mexico that had expired in 2020 before Biden was elected. However, the Court didn’t order Trump to reinstate it. [3] The six radical, reactionary justices appear to be acting aggressively to exert their power in support of a partisan, ideological agenda.

All six of these justices, unless I’m much mistaken, pledged at their confirmation hearings to abide by legal precedents, including previous Supreme Court decisions such as the Roe v. Wade decision, which made it a constitutional right to be able to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability at about 22 – 24 weeks of pregnancy. It now seems clear that they all lied, meaning they committed perjury given that they were testifying under oath.

In a future post, I’ll review the implications of the radical Texas pregnancy termination law and the Supreme Court’s failure to delay its implementation to allow time for judicial review. I’ll also discuss ways to respond to the Court’s radical, reactionary behavior.

[1]      Hubbell, R., 9/3/21, “Today’s Edition: A judicial coup d’état,” (

[2]      Hubbell, R., 9/2/21, “Today’s Edition: Susan Collins should resign in disgrace,” (

[3]      Hubbell, R., 8/27/21, “Today’s Edition: The backbone of America,” (


Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

The current “conservative” majority on the Supreme Court is actually a group of ideologically-driven, radical, judicial activists who have no intention of honoring precedents, despite their promises during confirmation hearings to do so. Although some of their radical precedent-breaking decisions get covered by the mainstream media, such as the recent voting rights case and the upcoming decision on pregnancy termination, many of them do not.

A recent Supreme Court case, known as Cedar Point Nursery vs. Hassid, involves the ability of union organizers to visit farms to talk to farm workers (as allowed under a 1975 California regulation). It’s a very significant decision that got very little attention in the mainstream media. A 1975 California regulation has required corporate farmers like Cedar Point (a 300-acre strawberry farm) to allow union organizers on its property to talk to workers for up to three one-hour periods on up to 120 days out of a year (one hour each before work, at lunch time, and after work to avoid interrupting work). Cedar Point sued claiming this was a government seizure of their property without compensation and was a violation of the Fifth Amendment (which states that “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”). Cedar Point claimed that this was a “taking” of its property because it is deprived of the “right to exclude” trespassers from its property, which, it claimed, is fundamental to true property ownership rights.

A lower court had ruled against Cedar Point, but it appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 in favor of Cedar Point, finding that the regulation was a “taking” of private property and therefore Cedar Point was entitled to compensation. The six radical “conservative” justices were the majority.

This ruling overturns important elements of a 1978 Supreme Court precedent. That ruling established a framework for evaluating whether a governmental restriction on personal property rises to the level of a “taking”. The framework’s criteria include the economic impact of the law or regulation and the extent of its interference with a business. The requirements of the California regulation specifically minimized these impacts and had been in place and operating since 1975.

This ruling has potentially far-reaching implications. For example, a property owner’s “right to exclude” is the argument segregationists used to defend their exclusion of Blacks from places of business and other private venues. By giving new life to this argument (which the Supreme Court rejected in 1964), Roberts and his six-justice majority are opening the door to a whole range of lawsuits against anti-discrimination laws. Sooner or later the argument will probably be made that preventing a business, a private club, or an employer from excluding men or women, pregnant women, people of color (POC), or LGBTQ+ people is a “taking” of property rights. Also, it may well be argued that fair housing laws are a “taking” because they limit landlords’ “right to exclude” people, such as POC, LGBTQ+ people, families with children, or renters with a low-income governmental housing subsidy. [1]

Furthermore, worker safety inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), food safety inspectors from the Department of Agriculture, and pollution inspectors from the Environmental Protection Agency could be banned from companies’ property unless the companies are compensated. Although some language in the decision written by Chief Justice Roberts would appear to allow these inspections without compensation, challenges to them are likely. The possibility of challenging endangered species laws that require landowners to protect a species’ habitat has already been raised and a challenge to anti-pollution regulations would seem to be possible as well under the Supreme Court’s redefinition of what constitutes a “taking”.

In the Cedar Point decision, the six radical “conservative” justices on the Supreme Court have again shown their willingness to toss aside well-established precedents and to prioritize the rights of property owners over the civil rights of individuals. This decision may well lead to a variety of challenges from property owners – including landowners, landlords, employers, and businesses – to laws and regulations that protect civil rights, the safety of workers and consumers, and the environment, including initiatives to counter global warming and climate change.

[1]      Mystal, E., 6/24/21, “Yesterday’s union-busting Supreme Court decision was a segregationist throwback,” The Nation (


Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

The efforts of states to suppress voting of Blacks (and other targeted groups that tend to vote for Democrats) are an historical repeat of what happened after the Civil War. These and other efforts that assert states’ power to restrict individuals’ rights are confronting the 14th Amendments’ provisions (from 1868) that give the federal government the power to protect individuals’ rights in the face of state efforts to deny them. Historian Heather Cox Richardson’s daily blog puts these current events in the perspective of our history, which is a very valuable insight to have.

The Declaration of Independence, when it stated “that all men are created equal,” meant white men. Nonetheless, this was a radical concept at the time – that no man’s birthright made him better than any other man. The Civil War was fought, in effect, to maintain a system that elevated America’s white men above African Americans, Native Americans, other men of color, and even Irishmen. As in the mid-1800s, we are now facing efforts that reject the principle of the equality of all human beings and seek to recast America as a country where certain people are better than others. These efforts are being led by white men for the most part, and are empowered by a relatively small group of wealthy white men (and a few women). [1]

In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned slavery in an important step toward equality. However, this did not stop white men in the South from working to establish systems that continued to make African Americans unequal and subservient to whites. These white men worked to deny African Americans the right to vote, to testify in court, and to sit on a jury. The infamous 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision furthered this effort by denying citizenship to African Americans. The contorted opinion for the 7 to 2 decision was poorly reasoned and written by Chief Justice Roger Taney. These steps to institutionalize inequality occurred despite the fact that the 1870 Census would count African Americans as whole persons for the first time. Ironically, this would give the southern states more representation and power in Congress and in the Electoral College. [2]

To counter efforts to keep African Americans subservient, in July 1868, the 14th Amendment was passed, declaring that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” It guaranteed all citizens due process and equal protection under the law. To counter white southern men’s and the Dred Scott case’s assertion of states’ rights to write laws that determined who could vote, among other things, the 14th Amendment gave the federal government the power to protect individuals’ rights when state legislatures passed laws that were discriminatory and infringed on those rights.

Nonetheless, two months later in September 1868, the Georgia legislature voted to expel the 33 newly elected African American state legislators. In 1870, with African American voting reduced by the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan, African Americans were not elected. Similar events took place in other southern states. [3]

In response, the federal Department of Justice was created in 1870 with a primary mission of stopping the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and its suppression of the rights and voting of African Americans. The KKK was a domestic terrorist group then as it is today.

In February 2021, Black legislators in Georgia opposed proposed voting restrictions noting that they reminded them of the 1870s when Jim Crow laws and lynching were used to deter African Americans from voting. Nonetheless, Georgia legislators passed the voting restrictions. Although the means have changed, they are still presented as supposedly race-blind restrictions. However, the fact that white men (for the most part) are rewriting the rules of our democracy to protect white power is unchanged. Similar actions are taking place in other states, not all of which are in the South.

There are striking similarities between the voting suppression efforts of the late 1800s and what’s happening today. For example, in 1890, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill empowering the federal government to oversee voter registration, voting, and ballot counting in the South. Then, Senate Democrats blocked its passage by staging the first of many southern-led filibusters that killed civil rights legislation.

The civil rights laws and court decisions of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s are based on the 14th Amendment giving the federal government the power to protect individuals’ rights. For example, the Brown vs. Board of Education decision that outlawed public school segregation and separate but supposedly equal treatment of Blacks, and the Loving vs. Virginia decision legalizing inter-racial marriage, were possible because of the 14th Amendment.

Opponents of civil rights laws and decisions revived the post-Civil War states’ rights arguments in the 1960s and 1970s. They began advocating for “originalism” in interpreting the Constitution when making court decisions. “Originalism” asserts that the Constitution should be interpreted as its writers envisioned it at the time they wrote it and that this would mean much stronger state governments and a weaker federal government, including in the establishment and enforcement of individuals’ rights.

In 1987, President Reagan nominated an “originalist,” Robert Bork, to become a Supreme Court Justice. He was rejected on a bipartisan basis. Bork had advocated for a rollback of Supreme Court civil rights decisions and of federal protections of individuals’ rights under the 14th Amendment. As Senator Ted Kennedy pointed out, rolling back such protections would not only raise the specter of re-segregation, but also the reduction of women’s rights to reproductive health services, citizens’ protections from rogue police officers, the teaching of evolution in schools, protection from censorship, and other individual rights.

Nonetheless, today’s Supreme Court is dominated by “originalists” and the individual rights protections of the 14th Amendment for voting, women’s and LGBTQ people’s health services, and the teaching of factual material, for example, are again being challenged by state governments, led mostly by white men.

On July 1, 2021, by a 6 to 3 vote, the Supreme Court decided that the state of Arizona did not violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act or the 14th or 15th Amendments with voting restrictions that disproportionately affect non-white racial or ethnic groups. President Biden stated that this “decision by the Supreme Court undercuts voting rights in this country and makes it all the more crucial to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore and expand voting protections. … Our democracy depends on it.” [4] However, to pass these bills, which have already passed in the House, the Senate will have to either eliminate or limit the use of the filibuster to block them. The Republicans have made it clear that they have no intention of providing any support for these bills.

I urge you to contact your U.S. Senators and ask them to support the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and to support eliminating or limiting the filibuster as the only way to pass these bills. The protections for voting rights in these bills are critically important to our democracy. You can find contact information for your U.S. Senators at

Please also contact President Biden and ask him to support eliminating or limiting the filibuster as the only way to pass these bills that he’s said our democracy depends on. You can email President Biden via or you can call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 or the switchboard at 202-456-1414.

[1]      Cox Richardson, H., 7/3/21, “Letters from an American blog,” (

[2]      Cox Richardson, H., 7/9/21, “Letters from an American blog,” (

[3]      Berman, A., 6/2/21, “Jim Crow killed voting rights for generations. Now the GOP is repeating history,” Mother Jones (

[4]      Cox Richardson, H., 7/1/21, “Letters from an American blog,” (


Republicans are rushing confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee just before the election, which is emblematic of their packing of the federal courts at all levels with right-wing judges. [1] (See my previous post for more details.) Rushing through the confirmation of Judge Barrett threatens to complete the delegitimization of the Supreme Court – and to some extent the whole federal judiciary – by making it clear that the federal court system is not an  impartial arbiter of the law, but a fully politicized institution.

Over 200 federal judges have been confirmed since Trump took office (including over 100 that were carried over from the Obama administration due to Republican blocking of confirmations) and basically all of them are proponents of the extreme right-wing legal philosophy of the Federalist Society. [2] Right-wing Republicans have used a Federalist Society endorsement as a litmus test for nominees while ignoring input from the American Bar Association, which always used to provide an independent analysis of the qualifications of nominees. [3]

This packing of the federal courts with right-wing jurists, which is the result of McConnell and the Republicans breaking the norms of our democratic processes, will benefit Republicans and their wealthy, corporatist backers for a generation or longer because their right-wing judicial philosophy favors corporations and the wealthy over workers, consumers, and the middle and lower classes.

These right-wing, Federalist Society-endorsed judges typically claim to support “originalism,” a legal philosophy that claims the original intent and meaning of the Constitution, written in 1787, should determine judicial decisions. “Originalists” claim that government cannot constitutionally do anything that is not explicitly provided for in the Constitution. This legal philosophy has been very effective in driving right-wing legal politics, although the appropriateness of applying the meaning of the words of the Constitution to today’s technology strains credulity; its writers couldn’t have dreamed of our current medical and health care capabilities, our transportation and communications systems, our financial instruments and guns, or our huge, multi-national corporations.

An alternative legal interpretation of the Constitution, as a living document that requires interpretation in the context of current times, was prevalent from the late 1930s into the 1980s. In the late 1930s, during the recovery from the Depression, judges interpreted the law and the Constitution to allow American democracy to live up to its principles. Right-wing politicians and legal theorists labeled this “judicial activism” or “legislating from the bench.”

The “originalist” legal philosophy was developed by right-wing scholars in the 1970s and 1980s in reaction to laws and judicial support for economic and civil rights. The New Deal worked to level the economic playing field, to regulate business, to provide voice and a balance of power for workers through unions, and to provide a social safety net. After World War II, these efforts continued with more of a focus on leveling the social playing field and treating all people as equals before law, by ending segregation and discrimination, protecting the rights of prisoners and those accused of breaking the law, and providing access to contraception and abortion. The judicial-established principle of one person, one vote and the Voting Rights Act worked to level the political playing field. Judicial decisions supporting economic and civil rights, many of them made by the Supreme Court under Republican Chief Justices Earl Warren and Warren Burger between 1953 and 1986, were, at the time, largely viewed as non-partisan. They reflected a belief that the Bill of Rights applies to state laws and governments, as well as at the federal level. [4] This dramatically expanded civil rights and overturned the “states’ rights” doctrine that had allowed states to, among other things, engage in discrimination, particularly against Black Americans.

“Originalist” judges have ignored and will continue to ignore precedents and are reversing 80 years of legislation and legal decisions on individual and civil rights, as the hearings on the latest Supreme Court nominees and recent Supreme Court decisions have made clear. While the attention of these hearings has been focused on social and religious issues, from abortion to affirmative action and discrimination to LGBTQ rights, the often-overlooked issues about our economy and capitalism, such as the balance of power between employers and workers, the ability to earn a living wage, and the availability of an economic safety net, are critically important as well.

Under “originalist” legal theory, the federal government has little power and much of what it currently does should be left to state governments. Under “originalism,” the federal government does not have the power to regulate corporations or the wealthy, including restricting their use of their money in our elections, as the spending of money is viewed as exercising free speech. Decisions by the federal judiciary at all levels make it clear that “originalist” theory favors private interests over public interests, corporations and employers over consumers and workers, law enforcement over defendants’ rights, and gun rights over voting rights. Such decisions deprive employees and other vulnerable populations of their civil rights. [5] [6]

Moreover, the “originalist” judges assert that the rights of the Bill of Rights, such as freedom of speech, are rights that belong to corporations as well as to natural human beings. I find it hard to believe that this was the intent of the writers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They clearly were focused on the rights of individual human beings. Furthermore, corporations, in anything approaching their current form, were unknown in those times.

Americans for Prosperity and other pro-business groups, many of them backed by billionaire, fossil-fuel businessman Charles Koch (and his deceased brother), have spent tens of millions of dollars on campaigns to pressure Senators to back controversial, right-wing judicial nominations, often using “dark money” (whose donors are hidden from the public).

The weak federal government response to the coronavirus pandemic is emblematic of “originalist” thinking. Some in the Trump administration simply didn’t believe it was the role of the federal government or within the legitimate powers of the federal government to respond, and, therefore, the response should be left to the states and the private sector.

President Trump and the Republicans in the Senate have packed the federal court system from top to bottom with hundreds of right-wing, Federalist Society-endorsed, “originalist” judges who are on the fringe of what was previously considered appropriate for a federal judge. If our Founding Fathers had intended an “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution, I have to believe they would have realized frequent amendments would be required and they would have made it much easier to amend it. I believe that “originalism” is a rationalization for public relations purposes developed by wealthy corporations and individuals as a way to “justify” laws and court decisions that work to their benefit. This is just like their claim of non-existent voter fraud as the public relations rationale for voter suppression tactics.

Our federal court system is currently unbalanced and biased in favor of corporations and the wealthy. Right-wing judges will skew court decisions and harm the well-being of everyday Americans for the next 20 to 30 years unless Democrats are elected and actively work to rebalance the federal courts toward mainstream legal philosophy and historical precedent. This will not be easy given how skewed the system currently is.

Dramatic steps will need to be taken, including expanding the number of judges in the federal court system, possibly including the number of justices on the Supreme Court, given that removing judges is basically impossible. This is the only way to return to laws and government programs that protect and support a fair and just society with civil, political, and economic rights for all, women able to make decisions about their reproductive health, workers able to support their families and have safe working conditions, consumers able to use products and services safely, and a safety net that protects people when they hit hard times.

[1]      Richardson, H. C., 10/11/20, “Letters from an American blog post,” (

[2]      The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, most frequently called the Federalist Society, is an organization of conservatives and libertarians that advocates for a textualist and originalist interpretation of the United States Constitution. (

[3]      Heer, J., 10/14/20, “Barrett’s evasions show why expanding the Court is necessary,” The Nation (

[4]      Richardson, H. C., 10/23/20, “Letters from an American blog post,” (

[5]      Richardson, H. C., 10/14/20, “Letters from an American blog post,” (

[6]      Dayen, D., 10/13/20, “Judge Barrett’s record: Siding with businesses over workers,” The American Prospect (


As Republicans are ramming through a Supreme Court nominee just before the election, they are also attacking Democratic presidential nominee Senator Biden for not saying whether he will “pack the court.”  The irony of this seems to be lost on them, many in the media, and most of the public.

Republicans are claiming that increasing the size of the Supreme Court (aka “packing the court”) would be “the absolute biggest power grab in the history of our country,” when in fact their packing of the federal courts at all levels with right-wing judges for the last four years and beyond is a far bigger power grab. [1]

Rushing through the nomination of Judge Barrett threatens to complete the delegitimization of the Supreme Court, making it clear it is not an impartial arbitrator of the law, but a fully politicized institution. Senator McConnell and his Republican colleagues in the Senate blocked the appointment of a centrist judge nominated by President Obama, Merrick Garland, for ten months, solely for political purposes. Now, they are ramming through an extreme, right-wing nominee in a matter of weeks, solely for political purposes. And closer to an election than has ever been done before.

If Barrett is confirmed, 15 of the last 19 Supreme Court appointments will have been made by Republican Presidents. Furthermore, five of the nine justices will have been appointed by Presidents who lost the popular vote and they will also have been confirmed by the votes of Senators who represent less than half of the American population. [2]

The Supreme Court has had nine justices since 1869, but its size is not specified in the Constitution. Republicans changed the size of the Court three times between 1863 and 1869 to give appointments to their Presidents and deny them to the opposition. [3] Furthermore, Republicans announced in 2016 that they would not fill any Supreme Court seats with nominees of Hillary Clinton (if she were elected), thereby effectively shrinking the size of the Court. Moreover, in 2013, Republicans proposed shrinking the number of justices on the D.C. Appellate Court, the second most important appellate court in the country, from 11 to 8 to lock in a conservative majority and prevent President Obama from appointing judges to the court. [4]

The packing-the-court issue is far bigger than just the Supreme Court. Senator McConnell and the Senate Republicans blocked dozens of Obama’s nominees to other courts, so that there were over 100 vacancies for federal judges when Trump took office. Over 200 federal judges have been confirmed since Trump took office and basically all of them are proponents of the extreme right-wing legal philosophy of the Federalist Society. [5] (More on this is my next post.) Right-wing Republicans have used Federalist Society endorsement as a litmus test for nominees while ignoring input from the American Bar Association, which always used to provide an independent analysis of the qualifications of nominees. [6] Republicans have also intentionally been installing young judges so their lifetime tenures and influence will last as long as possible.

This packing of the federal courts with right-wing justices, which is the result of McConnell and the Republicans breaking the norms of our democratic processes, will benefit Republicans and their wealthy, corporatist backers for a generation or longer. The only remedy for this political corruption, the only way to keep its perpetrators from realizing on-going benefits, is to increase the size of the federal courts, including the Supreme Court. New judges, appointed by Democrats, will rebalance the courts to reflect the interests and well-being of the American public. Furthermore, the federal district and appellate courts have not been enlarged since the late 1970s, despite a 40% growth in population.

It is important for the Democrats to stand up and make it clear that Republicans can’t steal two Supreme Court seats (and dozens of seats on other federal courts) and get away with it. They should couple an increase in the size of the Supreme Court with a proposal for a Constitutional Amendment to set term limits and/or a mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices.

By rebalancing the federal courts, Democrats would demonstrate a needed commitment to America’s democratic principles and promises, as well as to economic and social justice.

My next post will discuss the right-wing judicial philosophy called “originalism” to which these Republican judges typically adhere and its implications for economic and social justice.

[1]      Richardson, H. C., 10/11/20, “Letters from an American blog post,” (

[2]      Richardson, H, C., 10/11/20, see above

[3]      Starr, P., 9/23/20, “How to rebalance the Supreme Court,” The American Prospect (

[4]      Kuttner, R., 10/13/20, “Biden needs to give a major speech on court expansion,” The American Prospect (

[5]      The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, most frequently called the Federalist Society, is an organization of conservatives and libertarians that advocates for a textualist and originalist interpretation of the United States Constitution. (

[6]      Heer, J., 10/14/20, “Barrett’s evasions show why expanding the Court is necessary,” The Nation (


The following upcoming Supreme Court cases should be watched to see if the “conservative” majority continues to make partisan or ideologically-driven decisions that reflect judicial activism (i.e., they disregard precedents and established law): (See my previous post on why the “conservative” justices are really radical, right-wing activists.)

  • Department of Commerce vs. New York State, where the Court will decide whether to prohibit the addition to the 2020 Census of a question on citizenship status. The Constitution mandates a census to count all people living in the U.S. The Census Bureau itself (which is part of the Department of Commerce) estimates that adding a citizenship question would mean that 5.8% of households with a non-citizen would not respond to the Census, resulting in 6.5 million people not being counted.

    An acknowledged undercount (due to a citizenship question or anything else) would violate the intent of the Constitution. Furthermore, the undercounting of households with a non-citizen, who disproportionately live in states and districts represented by Democrats, will result in billions of dollars of reduced federal financial assistance to those areas due to funding allocations based on population. It might also result in Democratic leaning states losing seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the loss of Democratic leaning seats in state legislatures.

    A citizenship question has been added to the Census 1) in violation of the law for modifying the Census, 2) over the objections of experienced Census Bureau employees and six former directors of the Bureau under both Democratic and Republican presidents, and 3) based on a rationale that has been lied about by Commerce Secretary Ross and other Trump Administration officials. [1]

    A recently uncovered 2015 report by a Republican redistricting strategist, Thomas Hofeller, concluded that a citizenship question would provide data to facilitate drawing political districts that would benefit Republicans. Hofeller also suggested using the rationale for the question that the Trump Administration has put forward: that the question would help protect minority voters under the Voting Right Act. The Justice Department letter to the Commerce Department requesting the addition of a citizenship question, uses, word-for-word, a paragraph from Hofeller, despite denials from the Justice and the Commerce Departments that they were aware of Hofeller’s work. [2]

    Therefore, if the Court rules that a citizenship question can be included on the Census, the decision will reek of partisanship.

  • Rucho vs. Common Cause and Benisek vs. Lamone are cases where the Court will rule on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts to benefit Republicans in North Carolina and Democrats in Maryland. [3] Although these two cases reflect gerrymandering by each party, the bulk of and the most extreme partisan gerrymandering that is in place today has been done to benefit Republicans. (See my previous posts on gerrymandering here and here.)

    If the Court refuses to ban extreme partisan gerrymandering, the decision will clearly benefit Republicans and, therefore, appear to be partisan.

  • The Court has decided to rule on three cases involving employment discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT) individuals. Courts, including the Supreme Court, have ruled since the 1980s that the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prohibition on discrimination based on sex protected LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces non-discrimination in the workplace, has interpreted the Civil Rights Act to apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. Protection for LGBT people in federal law is important because 30 states do not have laws protecting them from discrimination. Many in the LGBT community are concerned that the Supreme Court will overturn these precedents in its rulings on these cases. It is even possible that its rulings in these cases could undermine protections for women. [4]

    If the Supreme Court’s rulings in these cases overturn protections for LGBT individuals, the Court’s decisions will be viewed by many as radical, right-wing ideological and partisan decisions by activist justices.

  • Although no case is expected to reach the Supreme Court for a while, anti-abortion activists in Alabama and a number of other states clearly intend to engender a Supreme Court case that will give the Court an opportunity to reverse the Roe vs. Wade decision guaranteeing women the right to terminate a pregnancy. Anti-abortion activists are pushing these laws now because they believe the current “conservative” Supreme Court justices will overturn the settled law and precedent that Roe vs. Wade represents and that has been in place for over 45 years.

    A Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade will be viewed by many as a radical, right-wing ideological and partisan decision of judicial activism.

If the Court makes radical, right-wing, partisan, activist decisions in some or all of these cases, Congressional action to reverse them is possible, with the possible exception of the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. Even there, Congress could ameliorate the effects of the inclusion of the question. (See my previous post on reversing the effects of Supreme Court decisions.)

These Supreme Court cases will be closely watched. A series of radical, right-wing, partisan, activist decisions will, unfortunately, continue to undermine the faith of the public that the Supreme Court – and our court system in general – is impartial and non-partisan. They would also undermine a foundational element of our democracy: its system of supposedly independent checks and balances.

[1]      Liptak, A., 4/15/19, “The Supreme Court will soon consider whether the Census will include a citizenship question,” The New York Times

[2]      Wang, H. L., 5/30/19, “GOP redistricting strategist played role in push for Census citizenship question,” National Public Radio (

[3]      Stohr, G., & Robinson, K., 3/26/19, “Supreme Court Justices question suits over partisan gerrymandering,” Bloomberg Law (

[4]      Arana, G., 5/22/19, “Does the Civil Rights Act protect gay employees? The Court will decide,” The American Prospect (


Congress could reverse the effects of many of the Supreme Court’s decisions by changing relevant laws. Many of the Court’s 5 to 4 rulings by the “conservative” justices (who I argue in a previous post would be more accurately described as radical, right-wing, activists justices) are politically or ideologically driven. Congressional action to reverse them is possible and in many cases would restore long-standing precedents and established law that the “conservative” justices have chosen to ignore or overturn.

One prominent example of a Supreme Court ruling that congressional action could reverse is the Court’s decision that gutted the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act. (See my previous post on this case here.) By updating the criteria for determining which local jurisdictions are subject to federal oversight, Congress could reinstitute federal review of states’ election practices. The proposed Voting Rights Advancement Act in Congress would accomplish this. [1]

As another example, Congress could reverse recent Supreme Court decisions that allow businesses to force harmed consumers and workers to settle their claims in a privatized arbitration system that overwhelmingly favors business interests. These Court decisions selectively interpret legal language or fabricate legal reasoning to allow a business to require consumers and workers to sign mandatory arbitration agreements that prohibit them from suing the business if they are injured or harmed. For example, the Court has read into the Federal Arbitration Act, which says nothing about class action lawsuits, that a corporation can require a consumer to sign away his or her right to join a class action lawsuit. [2] Congress could pass a law that establishes a right for consumers and workers to sue a business if they are harmed.

Additional examples of legislatively correctible Supreme Court decisions where established law and/or precedent have been ignored or overturned include:

  • Congress could pass a law reinstituting long-standing anti-trust laws that the Court has overturned. The Court’s decisions have changed anti-trust laws to:
    • 1) allow price fixing between manufacturers and distributors, and
    • 2) define a theoretical promise of short-term consumer price reduction as the sole criterion for deciding whether to permit corporate mergers and aggregations of marketplace power.
  • Congress could reverse the Court’s overturning of executive branch agency regulations, which the “conservative” justices did by developing a rationale for ignoring a 35-year-old precedent that had been repeatedly cited as established law. The Court has rejected agency regulations based on its own re-interpretation of underlying laws, rather than deferring to agencies’ expertise and interpretation of the law as had been the precedent. This effectively shifts regulatory power from executive branch agencies with long-standing experience and expertise to the five right-wing, male justices of the Supreme Court. Congress could pass a law prohibiting the courts from overturning a regulation if it is based on a permissible interpretation of the underlying law (which was the old precedent).
  • Congress could reverse the Supreme Court’s dramatic weakening of protections from discrimination based on race, age, religion, sexual orientation, and gender-identity. In race and age discrimination cases, the Court has ruled, contrary to precedent, that discrimination must be proven to be the sole cause of negative treatment. It has defined the term “supervisor” so narrowly that almost no one can be found guilty of sexually or racially harassing a subordinate. It has ruled that an employer or business owner can, based on his or her personal religious beliefs, eliminate coverage for birth control from an employer-sponsored health insurance plan. [3] Congress could pass laws defining the term “supervisor” and the standard for a finding of discrimination. It could also pass a law requiring all employer health insurance to meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care), which would mean including coverage for contraception.

Congressional action to overturn these and other Supreme Court decisions is not only possible, and would not only reverse bad legal precedents and harmful effects, but would send a message that power resides with Congress, not with five, unelected “conservative” men. Even if legislation to reverse these decisions can only be passed by the House, doing so would be beneficial. It would highlight the harm and lack of impartiality behind these politically or ideologically driven decisions, as well as the “conservative” justices’ ignoring of precedents and established law. House passage of such laws might temper future decisions by the Court and highlight important issues for future hearings on the confirmation of Supreme Court justices.

My next post will identify some upcoming Supreme Court decisions that should be closely watched to see if the trend of politically or ideologically driven decisions continues.

[1]      Millhiser, I., 2/13/19, “Not so Supreme? Congress actually has a lot of power, mostly unused, to rein in the Roberts Court by clarifying the intent of the law,” The American Prospect (

[2]      Millhiser, I., 2/13/19, see above

[3]      Millhiser, I., 2/13/19, see above


“Conservative” is not the right term to use to describe the Supreme Court Justices who have been the “conservative” majority in many 5 to 4 decisions going back to at least 2000. This applies in particular to the current five “conservative” justices who will be the deciding majority in many future decisions.

Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Thomas are probably better described as “radical, right-wing” justices. They could also be described as Republicans, small government ideologues, corporatists (supporters of large corporations and businesses), and/or plutocrats (supporters of the wealthy elites). Predecessors Rehnquist and Scalia also fit this mold; Kennedy, Souter, and O’Connor were a little harder to categorize.

These “conservative” justices are frequently making decisions that are not impartial decisions based on the law – despite their claims at confirmation hearings that they are just umpires calling balls and strikes based on the law (or some variation on this theme). One expert commentator states that “many of the Roberts Court’s decisions are so poorly reasoned that they appear to be straight-up dishonest.” (p. 52) [1] Despite nominees’ statements at confirmation hearings they respect precedents and established law (or something to that effect), their decisions frequently do not do so.

The “conservative” justices are also not strict constitutionalists – committed to following the original intent of those who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – despite their claims to be. Trying to apply laws and principles written back in the late 1700s to today’s world without interpretation and adjustment is ridiculous on the face of it, even if they did consistently try to do this (which they don’t). For example, corporations barely existed in the 1700s and they were nothing like the huge, multi-national corporations we have today. Also, the guns that existed then took many seconds, if not a minute or so to reload, while today we have guns that fire multiple bullets per second. Not to mention transportation and electronic communications that today happen at speeds that couldn’t have even been imagined in the 1700s, let alone the ability to store and have ready access to information on the scale we do today. Even if the relevant intent of those constitutional authors could be determined, there is no reason, over 200 years later, to give such deified status to their pronouncements.

And the “conservative” justices have sometimes made decisions that simply contradict reality, as in their decision to effectively overturn the Voting Rights Act. (See my previous post on that decision here.)

The Supreme Court, in the years since the Bush vs. Gore decision in 2000, has frequently ruled in ways that serve Republican partisan purposes, without apparent concern about overturning settled law or precedents, or violating their own stated principles. [2] In Bush vs. Gore, the Supreme Court ordered Florida to stop recounting ballots in the presidential election, when the recount might have shifted the victory from Republican George W. Bush to Democrat Al Gore. It overruled Florida’s Supreme Court and election officials despite the “conservative” justices’ frequently stated belief in “states’ rights,” which means that the states have the power to conduct their business, such as elections, without interference from federal authorities.

Other Supreme Court decisions that have clearly benefited Republican partisan interests and that were 5 to 4 decisions include: [3]

  • Janus in 2018, which ruled that workers in a unionized workplace do not have to pay union dues even though the union is still required to represent and advocate for them in collective bargaining and in grievances. This is expected to result in a drop in union membership and in the financial resources available to unions. The Justices were well aware that unions register and mobilize more voters, particularly minorities, than any other organizations and that these voters tend to support Democratic candidates.
  • Shelby County in 2013, which effectively overturned the Voting Rights Act and allowed Republican state governments and election officials to make it difficult for minorities, low-income citizens, and other Democratic-leaning voters to register and vote. (See my previous post on this decision here.) Without this decision and the voter suppression it allowed, Democrat Stacey Abrams and not Republican Brian Kemp would almost certainly have been elected Governor of Georgia in 2018, for example.
  • Citizens United in 2010, which, along with other rulings, allows corporations and wealthy individuals to spend unlimited sums of money in our elections. This money clearly works to the benefit of Republicans and, in general, those who support the power and political influence of corporations and wealthy individuals in our political system and policy making.
  • Vieth vs. Jubelirer in 2004, which ruled that gerrymandering of electoral districts to favor one party over the other is not unconstitutional. The great majority of such gerrymandering, and by far the most extreme partisan gerrymandering, has been done to favor Republicans. Absent partisan gerrymandering, Democrats would likely have 15 to 20 more seats in the U.S. House. (See my previous posts on gerrymandering here and here.)

Congress could act in all these cases (as well as others) to reverse the effects of the Supreme Court’s decisions by clarifying the legislative intent and goals of underlying laws. One clear example is the Court’s decision that gutted the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act. This decision is considered by some to be one of the mostly egregiously reasoned cases of the Roberts court. (See my previous post on this case here.) Congress could reinstitute the Voting Rights Act’s control over states’ election practices by updating the criteria for identifying jurisdictions that would be subject to federal oversight. The proposed Voting Rights Advancement Act in Congress would do this. [4]

Congressional action to reverse these politically or ideologically driven decisions is not only possible, and would not only reverse harmful effects and overturn bad legal precedents, but would also send a message that power resides with the people and Congress, not with five, unelected “conservative” men. Even if legislation to reverse these decisions or their effects can only be passed by the House, it could potentially temper future Supreme Court decisions. At the least, it would highlight the harm and lack of impartiality behind these decisions.

A subsequent post will identify other Supreme Court decisions where congressional action could negate the effects of the Court’s rulings. Another future post will identify future Supreme Court decisions that should be closely watched to see if the partisan, rather than impartial, decision making continues.

[1]      Millhiser, I., 2/13/19, “Not so Supreme? Congress actually has a lot of power, mostly unused, to rein in the Roberts Court by clarifying the intent of the law,” The American Prospect (

[2]      Kuttner, R., 5/15/19, “Over to you, John Roberts,” The American Prospect Today (

[3]      Meyerson, H., 4/23/19, “The GOP Justices: Republicans first, white guys second, Constitutionalists third,” The American Prospect Today (

[4]      Millhiser, A., 2/13/19, see above


On June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 5 to 4 decision, that key provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) were unconstitutional. The case was formally known as Shelby County, Alabama v. Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority (which included Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito) that “Our country has changed” and claimed that it had done so so dramatically since the initial passage of the VRA in 1965 that the VRA was now not only unneeded but unconstitutional.

This decision was shocking to many, in part because the Act had been reauthorized in 2006 by overwhelming majorities in Congress and signed into law without controversy by President George W. Bush. The Congressional vote, with Republicans in control of both the House and the Senate, was 390 to 33 in the House and 98 to 0 in the Senate in favor of reauthorizing, i.e., extending, the Voting Rights Act.

The over 15,000 pages of evidence compiled by Congress in its review of the VRA in 2006 indicated that it was still badly needed. The Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Republican Representative James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a conservative, noted that evidence had been “assembled to show the need for the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act” and that it documented “the extensive record of continued abuse” of voting rights. [1]

This extensive evidence clearly established that the country hadn’t changed much since the VRA’s enactment in 1965 with respect to efforts to impede voting by Blacks in some areas, particularly the South. It documented relentless efforts in some states to counter the effects of the VRA. The on-going nature of these efforts was confirmed by actions taken almost immediately after the Court’s ruling overturning the VRA. (See some specifics below.)

The Supreme Court in effect ruled that Congress had acted irrationally in 2006 in reauthorizing the VRA. Chief Justice Roberts’ and his colleagues’ decision was based on their version of reality, which was in contradiction to the evidence amassed by Congress. Roberts probably wouldn’t have been persuaded by any evidence, given that he had worked zealously in 1981, when he was at the Justice Department, to roll back the protections of the VRA.

At best, the Court’s decision was a failure of empathy or a triumph of ideology, but more likely it reflected racism.

Justice Scalia, in the oral arguments leading to the decision, described the VRA as being a “perpetuation of racial entitlement” and stated that he didn’t believe any legislator would vote to end such an entitlement once society had adopted it. Therefore, it was up to the Court to declare it unconstitutional, because this was the only way to end this racial entitlement. [2] Why the right to vote, which is a core principle of our democracy, would be considered a “racial entitlement” is hard to understand except from the perspective of racism.

The irony here, of course, is that the racial entitlement that exists in U.S. society is the entitlement of Whites. For most of the two hundred years of its existence, there were all White elected officials, police forces, corporate executives, judges and juries, as well as schools, colleges, and teachers, to list a few examples. And while our country has begun to change in this regard, there still is a long way to go to achieve anything close to equity.

What occurred after the elimination of the protections of the VRA has made it clear how virulent efforts to suppress voting, particularly of Blacks, are today. Within two hours after the Supreme Court issued its decision on the VRA, Texas took steps to reinstitute its strict photo ID law, which had previously been struck down by a federal court. The day after the decision, North Carolina amended a pending bill to make its voter ID law stricter and added other provisions eliminating or restricting opportunities to vote that targeted minority voters. Changes in voting procedures in other states, which had previously been blocked by the federal government under the VRA, were quickly implemented.

After years of litigation, federal courts have forced the reversal of the actions of Texas and North Carolina because their changes in voting laws were found to be intentionally racially discriminatory. However, in the intervening years, the discriminatory provisions were in effect. Overall, federal courts have now ruled that at least 10 of the new, state restrictions on voting were illegal.

In the five years since the Supreme Court’s overturning of the VRA, nearly 1,000 polling places have been closed, many of them in predominantly Black areas. Access to early voting has been cut, voters have been purged from the lists of eligible voters, and requirements to show a voter ID or provide proof of citizenship have been implemented. [3] Nine states had been subject on a statewide basis to VRA oversight of changes in voting procedures (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia). In every one of them at least one of the above five impediments to voting has been implemented (the average was 2.3 impediments). Eight of the 9 moved or eliminated polling places and 8 of 9 implemented new voter ID requirements. Four of these impediments to voting were implemented in each of two other states, where only parts of the states had been subject to the VRA (Florida and North Carolina).

Clearly, the Supreme Court majority was in error when they concluded that the country had changed and the protections of the VRA were not only no longer needed, but had risen to the level of being unconstitutional oversight of states’ elections by the federal government. Given that the Court is extremely unlikely to reverse itself, it is up to Congress to pass a new VRA that will fill the gaps in the protection of voting rights created by the Court’s decision.

I urge you to contact your U.S. Representative and Senators to ask them to support a new Voting Rights Act. Our democracy should be encouraging and supporting voting by all eligible voters, and not allowing states or local jurisdictions to implement impediments to voting – especially when those impediments have disproportionate effects on Black Americans.

You can find contact information for your US Representative at and for your US Senators at

[1]      Fountain, B., 2018, Beautiful Country Burn Again, HarperCollins Publishers, NY, NY. Quotations from page 406.

[2]      Fountain, B., 2018, see above. Quotation from page 409.

[3]      U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2018, “An assessment of minority voting rights access in the U.S.: 2018 statutory report.” (


There is widespread acknowledgement that fair and impartial courts and judges are essential to public trust in our court system and our democracy. A key role of the judiciary is to ensure that the legislative and executive branches of government do not overstep their authority or violate individuals’ rights. This is one of the key checks and balances that is part of the Constitution. Members of the legislative and executive branches should respect judges’ independence even when they disagree with their decisions.

In recent years, the judicial appointment process at the federal and state levels, elections of judges in some states, and court decisions themselves have gotten increasingly politicized. This is not a positive trend for our democracy and the politicization of the judiciary only seems to be accelerating.

President Trump on multiple occasions has criticized judicial decisions and demeaned individual judges. This is unprecedented and unhealthy for our courts and our democracy.

The President’s attacks on the judiciary seem to have emboldened others in their efforts to politicize our judicial system. In 2018, at least 14 states are considering at least 42 legislative proposals that would reduce the independence of judges and court systems. These proposals include giving legislators more control over the selection of judges, putting political or financial pressure on judges to rule the “right” way, and giving legislatures the power to override court decisions, including deciding the constitutionality of laws they themselves wrote. [1]

The attacks on judicial independence are coming from right-wing, wealthy interests in efforts to:

  • Have unlimited ability to sell guns and ammunition, as well as to carry guns, (Note: This is not really about Second Amendment rights; it’s about the ability of gun manufacturers to sell guns and ammunition to make big profits.)
  • Limit women’s ability to make decisions about their reproductive health,
  • Limit the rights of LGBTQ individuals,
  • Block every citizen’s right to an equal voice in our democracy through 1) restrictions on voting rights, 2) gerrymandered voting districts, and 3) unlimited campaign funding by wealthy special interests,
  • Expand the use of the death penalty and maintain an inequitable criminal justice system,
  • Block funding for public schools that ensures that every child receives a free and appropriate education as required by state constitutions,
  • Block fair taxes and fair employment and business practices necessary to stop spiraling economic inequality, and
  • Promote policies based on religious beliefs rather than the interests of the public.

For example, in Pennsylvania, legislators unhappy with a state Supreme Court ruling that a Republican gerrymandering of congressional districts was illegal, at first refused to comply with the court’s order and then threatened to remove the judges who had ruled against them. [2]

In Washington state, where judges are elected, legislators have proposed requiring analysis of how much each state Supreme Court decision will cost taxpayers. In decisions about individuals’ rights, cost should not be a factor and using the cost of a judge’s decisions should not be a factor in an election campaign. In North Carolina, legislators have proposed giving themselves more power in the selection of judges and in gerrymandering judicial districts. They have also proposed making judges run for election every two years. In Iowa, legislators unhappy with a judge’s decision to ban guns from courthouses have threatened to cut judges’ salaries and to require the courts to pay rent, using their control of the purse strings to try to affect judges’ rulings.

The impartiality and integrity of our state courts is critical because they handle the vast majority of criminal and civil cases in the U.S. For example, 94% of felony convictions occur in state courts, including 99% of rape cases and 98% of murder cases. In criminal cases, there is compelling evidence that the pressures of election campaigns and negative campaign ads affect judicial decision-making. (See this previous post for more detail.)

In summary, judges are facing unprecedented challenges to their ability to deliver fair, impartial justice free from partisan pressure. Not only are partisan elected officials trying to put their thumbs on the scales of justice, but in addition the rapid increase in spending on judicial campaigns has exacerbated the challenges to judicial fairness and integrity. (See this previous post for more detail.) We need to oppose efforts to undermine the independence of the judiciary whenever and wherever they arise.

We need to support policies and practices that protect the independence of the judiciary. Two key policies related to the selection of judges are for states to use an effective, non-partisan appointment process or to have effective regulation of judicial elections and spending on them. Partial public financing systems, which match individuals’ small contributions with public money, can legally limit spending and the size of contributions. These are important steps in controlling the influence of campaign money on judicial decisions. (See this previous post for more detail.)

Eroding the checks and balances between our branches of government, and in particular the courts’ independence in making decisions fundamental to our democratic principles, is unpatriotic and antithetical to the Constitution. Increasing politicization of the courts is likely to further increase divisive partisanship. Reduced independence and power in the courts could be extremely difficult to reverse after the fact; this may well be a snowball that will roll uncontrollably downhill. Politicizing the judiciary would make its decisions subject to the whims of the current political environment rather than based on long-term constitutional, legal, and democratic principles.

[1]      Brennan Center for Justice, 2/6/18, “Legislative assaults on courts – 2018,” New York University Law School, (

[2]      Keith, D., 2/21/18, “Democracy unchecked: Trump spurs state lawmakers to curb judges’ powers,” The American Prospect (


Traditionally, campaign spending has been done by a committee set up and overseen by a candidate running for election. A candidate’s campaign committee is governed by state or federal laws depending on the office for which the candidate is running. These committees are required to publicly report donors and the size of contributions is limited. Currently, at the federal level, contributions to candidates’ committees are capped at $2,700 per person per election.

This all began to change 25 years ago when groups and sometimes individuals other than a candidate’s campaign committee started spending money to influence the outcomes of elections. This spending is referred to as “outside spending” or “soft” money because it occurs outside of the candidate’s official campaign committee. It is supposed to be independent of the candidate’s committee and its efforts are not supposed to be coordinated with those of the candidate’s campaign. However, this independence is very questionable in many, if not most, cases. The regulations defining the standard for independence and the enforcement of them have been weak at best. The Federal Election Commission (FEC), the primary regulator of campaign spending, is hamstrung by the intense partisanship in Washington.

The lack of accountability for outside spending has been a major contributor to the growth of negative campaigning. Outside spending is typically used to attack an opponent rather than to support a candidate. The attacks can be nasty and stretch the truth or worse. Because outside spending is technically independent of the candidate, he or she can plausibly claim that it is out of his or her control. Therefore, no one can be effectively held accountable for the content of ads or other material.

Outside spending had been growing relatively modestly until the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that ruled that wealthy individuals, corporations, and other organizations could engage in unlimited outside spending. The five Supreme Court justices who supported this ruling felt that such spending was part of free speech. They believed that the independence of the spending and the disclosure of its sources would prevent the corruption of elected officials who benefited from it. However, there is now significant evidence of collaboration between outside spenders and candidates, as well as evidence of corruption. (See my previous posts on illegal coordination and the corrupting effects of unlimited spending.)

Outside spending has already hit $1 billion in the 2016 federal elections – up from $225 million at this point in the pre-Citizens United 2010 elections. There’s been $621 million in outside money spent on the presidential race, $426 million spent on Senate races, and $187 million spent on House races. [1]

Outside spending now exceeds the spending by candidates’ committees in many of the high profile, tightly contested Congressional races. [2] Outside spending is spreading to state-level elections, which I’ll discuss in a future post.

Super political action committees (super PACs) are the primary vehicle for outside spending. Super PACs have spent $847 million to-date in the 2016 federal elections and they will spend hundreds of millions more by Election Day. There are no limits on the size of contributions they can receive, but they are required to disclose their contributors.

In addition to super PACs, two types of non-profit organizations are used for outside spending because they are not required to disclose their donors. (I’ll discuss donor secrecy in my next post.) One type is business associations like the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Medical Association, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. These groups are referred to as 501(c)(6) organizations because that is the section of the IRS rules that governs them. They may engage in political activities, as long as these activities are not their primary purpose. However, the IRS has not defined “political activity” nor “primary” so some of these organizations easily skirt this limitation. [3]

So far in the 2016 elections, 6 of these business associations have reported $26 million in political spending to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), including almost $25 million spent by the US Chamber of Commerce. The FEC reporting does not represent all the political spending by these groups because only certain kinds of activity are required to be reported, most notably activity, usually ads, that explicitly encourages the election or defeat of a specific candidate.

The second type of non-profit organization that is widely used for political purposes is commonly referred to as a social welfare organization. Examples include the National Rifle Association (NRA), Planned Parenthood, and the Sierra Club. These groups are referred to as 501(c)(4) organizations because that is the section of the IRS rules that governs them. Their primary purpose is supposed to be promoting the social welfare of our society. However, as with business associations, they may engage in political activities, as long as these activities are not their primary purpose. Again, because of the lack of clear regulations, some of these organizations easily skirt this limitation.

So far in the 2016 elections, 95 of these groups have reported $93 million in political spending to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), including $25 million spent by the NRA, the biggest spender among them by far. As with business associations, the FEC reporting does not represent all the political spending by these groups because only certain kinds of activity are required to be reported.

In addition to the significant potential for corruption, outside money is problematic because the unlimited spending it allows gives a megaphone to wealthy corporations and individuals that can drown out other voices that provide important information for voters. For our democracy to function as the founders envisioned it, citizens must vote and be well-informed. Unlimited election spending by a tiny slice of our society means that voters will receive skewed information and may be discouraged from voting because they feel their voices and votes are meaningless.

As a result, a democracy built on the principle of one person, one vote, is fundamentally undermined. All voices should be heard in a relatively balanced manner during election campaigns. Given the constraints of the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decisions, the value and impact of small campaign contributions must be enhanced by matching them with public funds. Ultimately, the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decisions must be overturned and limits established on contributions and spending in our elections.

[1], retrieved 10/22/16, “2016 outside spending, by race,” Center for Responsive Politics (

[2], retrieved 10/22/16, “Races in which outside spending exceeds candidate spending,” Center for Responsive Politics (

[3], retrieved 10/22/16, “Dark money basics,” Center for Responsive Politics (


There is widespread recognition that a fair and impartial judiciary is essential to the maintenance of public trust and confidence in our court system and our democracy. In 39 states, at least some judges are elected; in aggregate, 87% of state judges nationwide run in elections. (In some states and for the federal judiciary, judges are appointed and not elected.)

The impartiality and integrity of our state courts is critical because they handle the vast majority of criminal and civil cases in the U.S. For example, 94% of felony convictions occur in state courts, including 99% of rape cases and 98% of murder cases.

The rapidly growing spending on judicial campaigns brings with it the potential for money to influence (or appear to influence) judges’ decisions and to create conflicts of interest. Elected judges are routinely raising campaign funds from and benefiting from spending by those who will appear before them in court as lawyers or parties in a case.

Between 2000 and 2009, over $200 million was spent on elections for state supreme court justices in 22 states. This was more than double the $83 million spent in the previous decade. This growth in spending appears to be accelerating and has been exacerbated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United and related decisions, which allow unlimited contributions to and spending by supposedly independent groups, including corporations.

As with other elected offices, spending by outside, supposedly independent groups is growing in judicial races. Furthermore, the frequency of very large contributions and high levels of spending by a small number of wealthy individuals and organizations is increasing. For example, in the 29 most expensive judicial elections in the decade from 2000 to 2009, the top five spenders averaged $473,000 while all others averaged $850. [1] As with other races, much of the outside spending is on negative advertising. Negative advertising tends to undermine trust in elected officials and to reduce voter turnout. Outside spending also fuels an arms race with special interests spending more and more to out-spend competing interests.

As a result, there is the appearance, if not the actuality, that campaign money is influencing elected judges’ actions. As retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, “In too many states, judicial elections are becoming political prize fights where partisans and special interests seek to install judges who will answer to them instead of the law and the Constitution.” [2] For example, in Alabama, the primary sources of campaign funds for supreme court candidates have been businesses and trial lawyers as they battle each other over tort reform. In 2006, candidates for the chief justice position raised $8.2 million. (Tort reform refers to changes in the laws governing the ability of victims to get court-ordered compensation for damages or personal injury.)

My previous post highlighted a case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court where a 4 to 2 decision found that Governor Walker and his campaign had not engaged in illegal coordination with two supposedly independent business groups that spent millions of dollars supporting his campaign. Two justices, who participated and voted with the majority, had been asked to recuse themselves because the two groups whose support of Walker was at issue had also spent millions of dollars on their campaigns. They refused to recuse themselves and this case is now being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

West Virginia is another state where business interests are spending millions of dollars on judges’ elections and where a state supreme court justice refused to recuse himself in a case where he had a conflict of interest. The case is Caperton vs. Massey where a jury verdict that had ordered Massey Energy Co. to pay $50 million was being appealed. Massey’s CEO, Don Blankenship, knowing the case was going to the court, spent $3 million supporting the election of Justice Brent Benjamin in 2004. This was over 60% of the total spending on Benjamin’s campaign. After he won the election, he was one of the majority votes in a 3 to 2 decision that overturned the $50 million award against Massey. He refused to recuse himself. This was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and it ruled in June, 2009, that Justice Benjamin had to recuse himself because of the “serious risk of actual bias.” [3]

In May 2016, Justice Benjamin was up for re-election. Outside groups spent $3 million in the election. The biggest spender, at $2 million, was the Washington, D.C., based Republican State Leadership Committee, despite the fact that the election was supposedly non-partisan. It spent its money in support of the eventual winner, Beth Walker, who won with 39.5% of the vote in a five-person election. In addition, various outside business groups spent almost $500,000 supporting her. This $2.5 million in outside spending was many times the $200,000 she raised for her campaign and still many times what she may have spent including $500,000 in loans from her husband. [4]

In summary, judges are facing unprecedented challenges to their ability to deliver fair, impartial justice that is free from the influence of special interests and partisan pressures. A major driver of the threat to judicial integrity is growing campaign spending, including the rapid increase in unlimited spending by outside groups and individuals.

My next post will take a look at the effects of judicial elections on criminal cases. After that, I will present some policy solutions to the problem of elections and campaign financing that can undermine a fair and impartial judiciary.

[1]       Sample, J., Skaggs, A., Blitzer, J., & Casey, L., 2010, “The new politics of judicial elections 2000-2009,” Justice at Stake (

[2]       Justice at Stake, 2016, “Money & Elections,” Justice at Stake (

[3]       Brennan Center for Justice, 6/8/09, “Supreme Court reverses decision in Caperton vs. Massey,” Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law (

[4]       Brennan Center for Justice, 5/6/16, “Outside spending in West Virginia Supreme Court race nears $3 million,” Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law (


As I described in my last post, one of the Supreme Court’s justifications for its decisions allowing unlimited spending by outside groups in our elections was that their spending would be independent of any candidate’s campaign. Therefore, as Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the Citizens United decision, such expenditures “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” [1]

However, in reality, many outside groups spending large sums of money on our elections are not independent but coordinate their activities with candidates and their campaigns. One of the most blatant and well-documented examples of coordination between a candidate and outside groups is that of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and two non-profit, “social welfare,” 501(c)(4) groups: the Wisconsin Club for Growth and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce group. [2]

In 2012, when Governor Walker was facing a recall election, he worked closely with these two organizations to raise millions of dollars that were spent supporting his re-election and attacking his opponent. He and his staff advised donors that contributions to these groups would not be disclosed and that corporate contributions were welcome. This bypassed Wisconsin’s laws requiring disclosure of campaign donors and prohibiting corporate donations.

Walker knew where financial support for his re-election was coming from but the public did not. So he rewarded his secret supporters. For example, his top legislative priority after he won the election was passing a mining bill drafted by an out-of-state mining corporation, Gogebic Taconite. It had secretly contributed $700,000 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth. Also after the election, Menard Hardware got a $1.8 million tax credit from an economic development agency that Governor Walker chaired. Its CEO had secretly given $1.5 million to the Wisconsin Club for Growth at Walker’s behest.

These donations came to light two years later in an investigation into allegations of coordination between Walker’s campaign and these two, supposedly independent, outside groups. The investigation was led by both Republican and Democratic prosecutors, as well as Wisconsin’s non-partisan elections board.

Eventually, Walker and his campaign challenged the investigation in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. It ruled 4 – 2 in their favor, stopping the investigation. Overturning years of precedent, it ruled that the coordination between Walker’s campaign and the two outside groups was constitutionally protected as long as the outside groups didn’t explicitly call for the election or defeat of a candidate.

However, that’s not the end of the story, but rather the beginning of a related one. The four justices who voted to declare the coordination legal, had themselves received a combined $10 million of support in their elections from none other than the Wisconsin Club for Growth and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce group. In most cases, these two groups had spent more on the judges’ elections than the candidates themselves. For example, in 2011, the two groups spent nearly $3.7 million supporting Justice David Prosser’s election. This was five times as much as the candidate’s campaign spent and he ended up winning by just 7,000 votes (out of 1.5 million cast or less than 0.5%: 50.17% to 49.70%). In 2008, the two groups spent $2.75 million in support of Justice Michael Gableman, over six times what the candidate’s campaign spent. He won by just 20,000 votes (out of 740,000 votes cast or less than 3%: 51.2% to 48.5%). The spending by these two outside groups very likely had a decisive effect on these elections.

When the special prosecutor defending the investigation into the two groups’ coordination with the Walker campaign asked Justices Gableman and Prosser to recuse themselves because of their conflict of interest, they refused to do so. As a result, these justices not only legalized what Governor Walker had done, but also legalized the actions of these deep-pocketed supporters of their elections and coordination with these groups in their own campaigns. [3]

Their decision is now being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It will be interesting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will take this opportunity to reconsider their Citizens United decision in light of what has happened in its aftermath. The evidence clearly contradicts their rationale for allowing unlimited contributions and spending by outside groups: that it would be independent of candidates’ campaigns and would not give rise to even the appearance of corruption. There has been coordination among outside groups and candidates’ campaigns, followed by blatant corruption of public decision-making. Will the U.S. Supreme Court, therefore, clarify what is required for outside groups to operate truly independently of any candidate’s campaign? Will it recognize the clear potential for corruption and allow limits on contributions and spending? Hopefully, it will acknowledge the realities of our election campaigns and take corrective action.

[1]       Carney, E.N., 12/10/15, “Super PAC debate spotlights illegal coordination,” The American Prospect (

[2]       Fischer, B., 5/19/16, “Will SCOTUS confront the results of Citizens United,” Moyers & Company (

[3]       Fischer, B., 5/19/16, see above


The unlimited donations to and spending by Super PACs and non-profit “social welfare” groups [aka 501(c)(4)s] allowed by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United and other decisions have changed the whole pattern of funding for our presidential campaigns.

These supposedly independent, “outside” entities are the dominant players in this election. Every one of the major presidential candidates except Bernie Sanders has one or more of these unconstrained groups advocating for his or her election. One study found that more than 80% of the advertising in the Republican presidential primary race was paid for by outside entities – not by the candidates’ own campaign committees. [1] Campaign funding from Super PACs and 501(c)(4)s is rapidly trickling down to US Senate and House races, to state-level elections, and even to Mayoral elections.

As of February, $607 million has been given to Super PACs. Of that huge sum, $248 million (41%) has come from just 50 mega-donors, their families, and their privately held companies. This is more money than the $161 million donated by the 1 million contributors to Hillary Clinton’s campaign committee. While donations to Super PACs and 501(c)(4) non-profit groups are unlimited in amount and source, donations to candidates’ campaign committees are limited to $2,700 per election and corporate money is prohibited. [2]

The Supreme Court justified its Citizens United decision by asserting that the unlimited spending of these outside groups would be independent of candidates’ campaigns and that donors and spending would be disclosed so that voters would know who was trying to affect their votes. As Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in Citizens United: “By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not in coordination with a candidate.” Because the expenditures are independent, Kennedy concluded, they “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” [3]

These justifications for allowing unlimited spending have now been shown by reality to be wrong. Meaningful disclosure is not occurring. Super PACs’ disclosures of donors are infrequent and often not timely in terms of when an election is occurring. Furthermore, large donors have engaged in money laundering to hide the true source of their donations. They donate via a corporation or other entity that does not disclose its sources of funding and sometimes is set up for the express purpose of funneling political contributions and then disbanded once the election is over. The non-profit 501(c)(4) organizations do not have to disclose donors and hence are referred to as “dark money” groups. Money is often shuffled among these groups to hide its true source.

It is becoming increasingly well documented – although it has been suspected from the beginning – that many Super PACs and 501(c)(4) groups do NOT operate independently of the candidates and their campaign committees. Over 100 of the Super PACs, including many of the biggest ones, are single candidate Super PACs. This means they are raising and spending money on behalf of one and only one candidate. Roughly 80% of the money raised by Super PACs in this election cycle has gone to single candidate Super PACs. These Super PACs are effectively shadow campaigns. They run ads, stage events, sell candidate-branded merchandise, and even handle press inquiries. They are often run by close aides (or former aides) of the candidate.

In many cases, the candidate attends the fundraisers for the Super PAC and in some cases, the candidate launches the Super PAC and directly helps it raise money before officially becoming a candidate. Jeb Bush, former Governor of FL and Republican presidential candidate in 2016, did this with his Right to Rise Super PAC. It raised more than $100 million that was used to support his presidential campaign once he became an official candidate. [4]

One of the most blatant and well-documented cases of coordination between a candidate and outside groups is that of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and two non-profit, 501(c)(4) groups: the Wisconsin Club for Growth and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce group. [5] I’ll describe this example of coordination in my next post.

[1]       Carney, E.N., 12/17/15, “Democracy prospect: Omnibus battles spotlight political money fault lines,” The American Prospect (

[2]       Gold, M., & Narayanswamy, A., 4/17/16, “41% of Super PAC money coming from 50 donors,” The Boston Globe

[3]       Carney, E.N., 12/10/15, “Super PAC debate spotlights illegal coordination,” The American Prospect (

[4]       Carney, E.N., 12/10/15, see above

[5]       Fischer, B., 5/19/16, “Will SCOTUS confront the results of Citizens United,” Moyers & Company (


In 2014, the Supreme Court, in a decision known as McCutcheon, ruled that it is unconstitutional to limit how much an individual can give in aggregate to all candidates’ campaigns and political parties during an election cycle. This ruling affects contributions that go directly to candidates, whereas the better known Citizens United decision allows unlimited campaign spending that is (supposedly) independent of any candidate’s or party’s campaign. Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, Congress exacerbated the situation by slipping a provision into a must-pass budget bill that raised substantially the amount a contributor can give to a party committee and allowed them to give that amount to each of multiple party committees.

Contributors are still limited by laws capping the amount one can give to any individual candidate ($5,400 for federal candidates), but the aggregate limit, which was $123,200 per two-year election cycle, was ruled a violation of free speech. Furthermore, candidates and the parties have developed strategies that allow joint fundraising where contributors can write one check that will be split among multiple candidates and/or a variety of national and state party committees.

As a result contributors are now giving checks of well over $200,000 directly to candidates. Republican Representative Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the US House, has received at least 22 checks of $244,200 each. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has received at least eight checks of $353,400 each. For the Hillary Victory Fund, the maximum donation is actually $356,100, based on maximum donations of $2,700 to Hillary for America for the primary election, $33,400 to the Democratic National Committee, and $10,000 to the federal accounts of each of 32 state Democratic parties. [1]

These are only the most dramatic examples of the dozens of checks over the previous limit that Ryan, Clinton, and other politicians are receiving. Several husband and wife pairs have given close to half a million dollars per couple. And some wealthy contributors have given super-sized checks to more than one of these joint fundraising efforts. [2]

While the bulk of the money from these huge checks goes to party committees, these party committees often make large donations to the candidate who sponsored the fundraiser. Basically, this is money laundering that circumvents the limit on what a contributor can give to any individual candidate.

The McCutcheon ruling is one of a series of Supreme Court decisions, almost all by 5 to 4 votes, that have undermined campaign finance laws and allowed huge sums of money to flow to candidates’ own campaigns, to party committees, and to supposedly independent expenditures meant to influence voters. These Supreme Court decisions appear to ignore the realities of campaign financing and the potential of large campaign contributions and expenditures to influence elected officials. They also appear to ignore the potential for outright corruption and bribery.

Although most of the media’s attention is focused on the fundraising of the presidential campaigns, big contributors tend to have even greater influence on congressional candidates and their campaigns. Furthermore, their influence on state level campaigns can be even more dramatic.

The bottom line is that these Supreme Court decisions, somewhat exacerbated by increases in contribution limits initiated by Congress, have increased the ability of a very small number of the very richest Americans to provide ever increasing amounts and portions of campaign funding. This shifts our political system away from democracy and toward a plutocracy, where the rich elites effectively rule our country.

[1]       Vogel, K.P., & Arnsdorf, I., 5/2/16, “Clinton fundraising leaves little for state parties,” Politico (

[2]         Vandewalker, I., 4/25/16, “Two years later, McCutcheon fuels huge checks to politicians,” Moyers & Company (


ABSTRACT: Many millions of dollars are being spent by special interest groups on our political campaigns. This level of spending makes it clear that wealthy special interests – individuals, corporations, unions, and non-profit organizations – are taking over our elections.

The only way to stop this undemocratic spending is through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution – because of the Supreme Court’s rulings in Citizens United and other cases. Overturning the 2010 Citizens United decision has broad support across all demographic and political groups, including 85% of Democrats, 76% of Republicans, and 81% of independents. And two-thirds of small business owners view the Citizens United decision as bad for small businesses.

Move to Amend, Wolf PAC, and other organizations are working to enact a corrective Constitutional amendment by introducing bills in state legislatures that call on Congress to enact such an amendment or, if Congress fails to act, calling for a Constitutional Convention to propose such an amendment. This legislation has passed in California, Vermont, and Illinois, and is pending in 13 other states.

If you’d like to participate in the effort to overturn Citizens United, contact Move to Amend or Wolf PAC via their websites. Both have local and national activities in which you can participate.

FULL POST: Many millions of dollars are being spent by special interest groups on our political campaigns, both for candidates’ elections and on ballot questions. Nationally, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in 2014 by outside groups (i.e., not a candidate’s own campaign). (See previous post on 11/17/14 for details.) However, this is not just an issue for national elections. For example, here in Massachusetts recent outside spending included:

  • Governor’s race in 2014:                over $17 million
  • Two ballot questions in 2014:       over $23 million
  • Boston Mayor’s race in 2013:        over $  4 million

This level of spending makes it clear that wealthy special interests – individuals, corporations, unions, and non-profit organizations – are taking over our elections. The basic democratic principle of one person, one vote, is being overwhelmed by money. This money serves as a megaphone so that the voices and wishes of these wealthy special interests drown out the voices of average voters and citizens.

Making this situation even worse is that a growing portion of these huge sums is given by anonymous donors. (See previous post on 11/17/14.) This money is called “dark money” because its source is unknown. Anonymous donors means there is no accountability for the messages delivered. Furthermore, voters can’t effectively evaluate the credibility of the message because they don’t know who is paying for it.

The only way to stop this undemocratic spending in our elections is through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution – because of the Supreme Court’s rulings in Citizens United and other cases. (These rulings said that corporations and other organizations are people and have all the same rights as actual human beings under the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution. The rulings also said that spending money in elections [and elsewhere] is speech and is protected by freedom of speech rights.)

The American public broadly supports overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which was the key to the avalanche of political spending by outside groups. Polling finds that 80% of the American people oppose the Citizens United decision with remarkably strong agreement across all demographic and political groups, including 85% of Democrats, 76% of Republicans, and 81% of independents. Similarly, 88% of small business owners view the current role of money in politics negatively and two-thirds view the Citizens United decision as bad for small businesses.

To address this situation, Move to Amend (, Wolf PAC (, and other organizations are working to enact a corrective Constitutional amendment. They are introducing bills in state legislatures that take a two-step approach to advancing the Constitutional amendment necessary to reverse these rulings.

  • First, these bills call on Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment stating two things:
    • The rights protected by the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution are the rights of human beings only and not of corporations or other organizations.
    • Congress and the states may place limits on political contributions and spending to ensure that our elections are fair and that all citizens can participate and have their voices heard in a reasonably equitable manner.
  • Second, if Congress fails to act within six months, the bills call for a Constitutional Convention to propose this amendment.

Such legislation has passed in California, Vermont, and Illinois, and is pending in 13 other states. You can check at the Move to Amend and Wolf PAC websites to see if there is an initiative in your state. A call for a Convention to amend the Constitution needs to be part of the legislation because our current Congress is so indebted to and dependent on wealthy campaign contributors that it is unlikely to pass an amendment staunching the flow of campaign money on its own.

Four of the last 11 amendments to the Constitution began this way – with state resolutions pressuring Congress to act. Notably, the 17th amendment, which established direct election of US Senators in 1913, was passed by Congress only after many states had passed a call for a Constitutional Convention. Although such a Convention has never occurred, if one did occur, any amendment it proposed would have to be ratified by ¾ of the states in order to go into effect.

If you’d like to participate in the effort to overturn Citizens United, first, go to the Move to Amend website and sign their petition (if you haven’t already). Second, I encourage you to contact Move to Amend or Wolf PAC via their websites. Both have local and national activities in which you can participate.


ABSTRACT: Here are three quick updates related to the US Supreme Court. First, issues with the conduct and ethics of a couple of the Justices have arisen in part because Supreme Court Justices are not covered by the Code of Conduct that applies to all other US judges. A Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2013 is being proposed in Congress that would require the Court to adopt a code of conduct similar to the one for other judges.

Second, Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg recently articulated what many legal scholars have been saying: that the current Court is “one of the most activist courts in history” based on its “readiness to overturn legislation” and judicial precedents.

Third, the Supreme Court will be considering cases in the upcoming year that will produce major decisions. These will give further indications of how the Court is balancing precedent and deference to legislative intent with ideology and activism. On the campaign financing front, the Court will consider a case that challenges the total, or aggregate, contribution limit of $123,200 on what an individual can give directly to all candidates for federal offices combined over the 2 year election cycle.

FULL POST: First, issues with the conduct and ethics of a couple of the Supreme Court Justices have arisen. The Supreme Court Justices are not covered by the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. A number of situations have occurred with Supreme Court Justices that under the Code would have been prohibited or would have required Justices to refrain from participating in certain cases due to apparent conflicts of interest. For example, Justice Thomas’s wife is a highly paid lobbyist who works on issues (health care for example) that have come before the Supreme Court. Justices Thomas and Scalia have attended and spoken at fundraisers and events for groups that are politically active on issues that have come before the Court. Neither has refrained from participating in any cases despite these apparent conflicts of interest.

Therefore, a Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2013 is being proposed in Congress that would require the Court to adopt a code of conduct similar to the one for other judges. The Justices, including Chief Justice Roberts, are, of course, opposed to the proposed legislation, asserting that they are capable of policing themselves. [1]

Second, Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg recently articulated what many legal scholars have been saying: that the current Court is “one of the most activist courts in history.” Her comment was based on the Court’s “readiness to overturn legislation”. Others have also noted its readiness to overturn judicial precedents, including ones of previous Supreme Court rulings. As examples of activism, Ginsburg highlighted the overturning of the Voting Rights Act and the ruling that the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care) was not a constitutionally allowed use of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. [2] Other examples of activism cited by other legal scholars include the Citizens United decision (and others) on campaign financing, decisions on affirmative action, and the decision stopping the recounting of ballots in Florida for the 2000 presidential election. The reasoning given with these decisions is, in many cases, so convoluted that it is hard to view them as anything but ideological activism.

Third, the Supreme Court will be considering cases in the upcoming year that will produce major decisions. These will give further indications of how the Court is balancing precedent and deference to legislative intent with ideology and activism. Front and center among these cases will be ones on campaign financing and affirmative action.

On the campaign financing front, the Court will consider a case known as McCutcheon versus the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that challenges the total, or aggregate, contribution limit of $123,200 on what an individual can give directly to all candidates for federal offices combined over the 2 year election cycle. This amount is well over twice the income of the average American family. (Anyone can give unlimited amounts to Political Action Committees that are, at least theoretically, independent of the candidates themselves.) [3]

If this aggregate limit is thrown out, our campaign financing and our elections will be even further skewed toward wealthy individuals. The Supreme Court has previously upheld these aggregate contribution limits because they address both the reality and appearance that our elected officials are corrupted by the influence of money. In our democracy, every citizens’ vote and voice is supposed to be equally heard and represented. [4][5]

[1]       Mencimer, S., 7/31/13, “Democrats to introduce Supreme Court ethics bill,” Mother Jones

[2]       Liptak, A., 8/25/13, “Ginsburg calls court one of most activist,” The New York Times

[3]       Jones, J., 9/11/13, “Supreme Court Preview: McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission,” League of Women Voters (

[4]       Kennedy, L., 9/10/13, “Stop the Next Citizens United,” Demos (

[5]       Lioz, A., 7/26/13, “Is McCutcheon v. FEC the Next Citizens United?” The American Prospect (


ABSTRACT: The unprecedented spending and the unprecedented secrecy in the current election campaigns are creating the perfect storm and it’s battering our democracy. They are the result of three factors: 1) great concentration of wealth, 2) unlimited campaign contributions, and 3) secrecy through weakly regulated non-profit organizations. Non-profit organizations don’t have to report contributors and are spending tens of millions of dollars on political activity. These non-profit organizations have accounted for two-thirds of the outside spending to-date – close to $100 million. The Internal Revenue Service has, so far, failed to exercise its oversight responsibilities. Corporations, in particular, like the secrecy.

The DISCLOSE Act in Congress would require disclosure of contributors of over $10,000 by all organizations. Senate Republicans have filibustered it (including a watered down version) multiple times. We need to demand that our elected officials require disclosure of campaign contributors. And we need a Constitutional Amendment that will reverse the Citizens United decision and allow limitations on contributions to political campaigns. Otherwise, the voices of we the people are drowned out by the purchased – not free but purchased – speech of wealthy individuals and corporations.

FULL POST: The unprecedented spending in the current election campaigns and the unprecedented secrecy about who’s contributing to the campaigns are creating the perfect storm and it’s battering our democracy. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “we can have a democracy or we can have great wealth in the hands of a comparatively few, but we cannot have both.” This perfect storm is the result of three factors:

  • The greatest concentration of wealth in more than a century,
  • Unlimited campaign contributions (thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allows unlimited spending by corporations, unions, and other groups), and
  • Secrecy for many of the contributors, especially corporations, through weakly regulated non-profit organizations. [1]

In addition to the Super PACs, which have to disclose contributors, there arenon-profit trade associations (such as the US Chamber of Commerce) and non-profit “social welfare” organizations [501(c)(4)s] that don’t have to report contributors. Politics is not supposed to be the primary purpose of these organizations. However, the US Chamber of Commerce is spending tens of millions of dollars on political activity, while refusing to disclose its contributors. Republican strategist Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, for example, is a 501(c)(4) that is raising and spending tens of millions of dollars on political activity in close alliance with his Super PAC, while refusing to disclose its contributors. [2]

So far in the 2012 election, these non-profit organizations have accounted for two-thirds of the outside spending – close to $100 million spent primarily on advertising. Back in 2010, they spent $130 million, outspending Super PACs 3-to-2. The Internal Revenue Service has, so far, failed to exercise its oversight responsibilities for these non-profit entities. It has no clear test for what constitutes excessive political activity and these tax-exempt groups are permitted to raise and spend money before being officially reviewed and approved. The tax exempt status of Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS is still pending more than two years after being created and after having spent tens of millions back in the 2010 elections. [3]

Corporations, in particular, like the secrecy these non-profit groups provide. For example, insurance giant Aetna secretly gave $3 million to a non-profit running ads attacking Obama’s health care plan, while publicly supporting the President. Not a single Fortune 500 company has been reported as contributing to a Super PAC, but they are giving millions to non-profit organizations where their contributions can be kept secret. [4]

At the time of the Citizens United decision, eight of the nine justices made it clear that transparency on contributions for political activity was important and that it was Congress’s responsibility to require appropriate disclosure. The DISCLOSE Act in Congress would require disclosure of contributors of over $10,000 by all organizations, Super PACs, trade associations, unions, and 501(c)(4)s. However, Senate Republicans have filibustered it (including a watered down version) multiple times. Many of the Republicans filibustering the DISCLOSE Act previously supported disclosure, including Senator McCain and Senate Minority Leader McConnell, and 14 Republicans who supported it just a couple of years ago. [5]  “[T]he essence of free speech, and democracy, is openness and accountability. … but Republican leaders remain adamantly opposed, and for an obvious reason. Republicans raise far more secret money than the Democrats and have far more to hide.” [6]

We the people are going to have to weather this perfect storm as best we can in this election. And then we will need to demand that our elected officials require disclosure of campaign contributors so we know who is trying to influence our elections. Ultimately, we need a Constitutional Amendment that will reverse the Citizens United decision and allow limitations on contributions to political campaigns. Otherwise, the voices of we the people are drowned out by the purchased – not free but purchased – speech of wealthy individuals and corporations who have amounts of money that far exceed that of everyone else.

[1]       Reich, R., 7/13/12, “The selling of American democracy: The perfect Storm,”

[2]       Roberts, C., & Roberts, S.V., 7/18/12, “Shine a light on political donations,” Daily Times Chronicle

[3]       McIntire, M., & Confessore, N., 7/7/12, “Corporate money funneled to nonprofits with an agenda,” The New York Times

[4]       Moyers, B., & Winship, M., 7/17/12, “Presto! The DISCLOSE Act disappears,” Moyers & Company

[5]       Moyers & Winship, 7/17/12, see above

[6]       Roberts & Roberts, 7/18/12, see above


Here’s issue #18 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 2/5/12. Recent issues have looked at the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that gives corporations freedom of speech rights to spend unlimited amounts of money in our elections. This issue takes a look at some other Supreme Court decisions that also favor corporations.

In addition to Citizens United, the Supreme Court has made a number of decisions that appear to indicate a strong slant in favor of corporations. Typically, these rulings have been decided by a 5 – 4 vote with the “conservative” bloc prevailing. It’s interesting to note, that while the “conservative” bloc describes itself as strictly interpreting the Constitution and adhering to its intent, corporations are not mentioned in the Constitution and, at the time, were entities chartered by state governments, generally for specific and limited purposes, and subject to state laws. [1]

Here are other examples of the Court’s pro-corporate decisions: [2]

  • After 20 years of litigation on the Exxon Valdez oil spill inAlaska, the Supreme Court reduced the punitive damages awarded by the trial court from $5 billion to $507.5 million. This is a slap on the wrist (less than 1.5% of annual profits) for a company that has averaged $36 billion a year in profits over the last 7 years.
  • In Sorrell vs. IMS Health, Inc. in 2011, the Court declared Vermont’s Prescription Confidentiality Law unconstitutional because it required a physician’s consent before his or her history of prescribing drugs could be sold by pharmacies and health insurers to pharmaceutical companies. The Court ruled that the state’s attempt to protect this information illegally discriminated against the pharmaceutical companies’ free speech rights – namely their ability to use this information in marketing and advertising “speech”. The supposedly conservative, states’ rights Court, ruled that federal law and Courts supersede state law and a physician’s individual right to privacy. [3]

Disallowing class action lawsuits against corporations on behalf of consumers and workers has been a recurring theme in this Supreme Court. [4]

  • In AT&T Mobility LLC vs.Concepcionin 2011, the Supreme Court overruled federal courts inCaliforniaand a number of state Supreme Courts. The lower courts had ruled that a consumer contract that prohibited class action lawsuits and required arbitration was unconscionable and therefore unenforceable. The US Supreme Court ruled that federal law preempted state law and that the contracts were valid and enforceable.
  • In Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. vs. Dukes in 2011, the Supreme Court invalidated the class action suit of 1.5 million women who contended that they had suffered sexual discrimination in pay and promotions at Wal-Mart. The Court concluded they were not a “class” eligible to file a class action lawsuit because they did not all have the same supervisor and that a class action lawsuit cannot be brought against a corporate policy or practice, but only against an individual supervisor.

In other cases, the Court has ignored precedents in ruling against injured workers, whistleblowers, and shareholders. In Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in 2007, the Court ruled that employers cannot be sued for race or gender pay discrimination if the claims are based on decisions made by the employer more than 180 days ago. In this case, Lilly Ledbetter learned after years of employment that she had been paid less than male workers but was denied her ability to sue because she had not brought the suit within 180 days of when her employer first discriminated against her, obviously without her knowledge. [5]

The dissenting opinions from the other justices on the Supreme Court often clearly underscore the five “conservative” justices’ – Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy – departure from precedents and the contortions of their legal reasoning. In the Citizens United decision, the Court went out of its way to find a way to make its broad ruling on corporate freedom of speech and political spending, rather than focusing on the issues of the much narrower case that was presented to it. Previous conservative Justices Rehnquist and Byron White have made statements that quite clearly indicate they would have disagreed with the Court’s decision in Citizens United. White, for example, wrote in an earlier case that corporations are “in a position to control vast amounts of economic power which may, if not regulated, dominate not only the economy but also the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process.” [6]

The decisions highlighted here, among others, reveal the dramatic judicial activism of these five justices. Rather than being driven by the merits of each case, precedents, and the intent of lawmakers, their decisions involving corporations appear ideological and results-oriented, with a clear intent to benefit corporations, while being hostile to government laws, rules, and regulations on corporate behavior.

[1]       Raskin, J., 2010, “The Citizens United Era: How the Supreme Court continues to put business first,” People for the American Way Foundation

[2]       Nader, R., 7/18/11, “The corporate Supreme Court,”

[3]       Raskin, see above.

[4]       Raskin, see above.

[5]       Wikipedia, retrieved 2/1/12, “Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.,”

[6]       Nader, see above.