RSSCategory: Court Decisions

Bernie Sanders proposes constitutional amendment to combat Citizen’s United

December 8, 2011 | By | 11 Replies More
Bernie Sanders proposes constitutional amendment to combat Citizen’s United

As I watched this video of Senator Bernie Sanders introducing a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, I felt like standing up and applauding and, even though I was the only one in the room as I watched the video, I did stand up and and I did applaud.

Yes, members of Congress.  You know it in your hearts that we desperately need to clean up our electoral process because it is arguably the only meaningful issue to be discussed.  Why would I say this?  Because without getting the money out of politics, we cannot have meaningful national conversations about any serious issue.  As Sanders indicates, the current system forces members of Congress to spend most of their time raising money and, worse, it invites big businesses to destroy any member of Congress who dares to rein in abusive business practices.   This corruption money=speech system is the reason that Congress is owned by big banks, insurers, telecoms, the military-industrial complex, big pharma and the fossil-fuel industries, and that Congress has repeatedly acted in deference to these industries, in ways that are harming ordinary Americans.

Here is the proposed language to the Amendment Sanders is proposing:

SECTION 1. The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons and do not extend to for-profit corporations, limited liability companies, or other private entities established for business purposes or to promote business interests under the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state.

SECTION 2. Such corporate and other private entities established under law are subject to regulation by the people through the legislative process so long as such regulations are consistent with the powers of Congress and the States and do not limit the freedom of the press.

SECTION 3. Such corporate and other private entities shall be prohibited from making contributions or expenditures in any election of any candidate for public office or the vote upon any ballot measure submitted to the people.

SECTION 4. Congress and the States shall have the power to regulate and set limits on all election contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own spending, and to authorize the establishment of political committees to receive, spend, and publicly disclose the sources of those contributions and expenditures.

The text of Sanders’ entire speech can be found at Huffpo.  Here’s an excerpt:

I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

In my view, a corporation is not a person.

In my view, a corporation does not have first amendment rights to spend as much money as it wants, without disclosure, on a political campaign.

In my view, corporations should not be able to go into their treasuries, spend millions and millions of dollars on a campaign in order to buy elections.

I do not believe that is what American democracy is supposed to be about.

I do not believe that that is what the bravest of the brave from our country fighting for democracy fought and died to preserve.

PoliticusUSA discusses the above proposed amendment, offering this comment:

There is one interesting component to the Saving American Democracy Amendment that makes it different from all of the other proposed amendments and remedies designed to overturn Citizens United. Section 4 of the amendment strikes at the basis for every Supreme Court decision related to campaign finance. Sanders is also taking aim at the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision where the Supreme Court ruled spending money to influence elections was a form of protected free speech, and struck down limits on expenditures.

The amendment proposed by Sanders changes this by giving Congress the power to set expenditure limits on individuals, organizations, and candidates themselves. The Saving American Democracy Amendment would return the government back to the people by shutting off the money pipeline from the wealthy and special interests. It is also significant that the amendment limits the amount of money a candidate can give to their own campaign. This means that candidates would no longer have to be millionaires, or grovel at the feet of corporate America and the 1% in order to be able to run.

I agree with everything that Sanders’ proposed amendment attempts to accomplish.   I’m concerned, though, that it doesn’t go far enough because it appears to invite “non-profit” organizations to remain financially active in political campaigns.  To the extent that this is true, it is an exception that might swallow the rule.  Under the Sanders’ proposed amendment, the logical move for a for-profit business would be to donate to a “non-profit” that just happens to advocate for candidates and legislation that benefit for-profit entities.  This would give rise to numerous disputes about whether an entity is a legitimate non-profit  that happens to be friendly to for-profits, or whether that non-profit is an illegal facade, agent or co-conspirator money-washer or  joint venturer of a for-profit entity.

I have not yet considered all of the ramifications of the various constitutional amendments that have been proposed so far. I will need more time to do this.  It helps me to understand the Sanders proposal by comparing it to other proposed Amendments that attempt to get money out of politics. I would suggest that anyone concerned about these issues (everyone should be concerned) should also consider all of the ideas being floated, including the approach taken by Move to Amend, which does not limit the scope of its own proposed amendment to for-profit entities.   Here’s that proposed language by Move to Amend:

Section 1 [A corporation is not a person and can be regulated]

The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.

Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.

The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.

Section 2 [Money is not speech and can be regulated]

Federal, State and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, for the purpose of influencing in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.

Federal, State and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.

The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.

Section 3

Nothing contained in this amendment shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.

Where the Sanders approach might be too narrow, the Move to Amend approach might be too broad.   Do we really want to say that Congress should be able to limit advocacy conducted by all non-profits?  I would think that we would want to control only those non-profits that serve as mouthpieces and money launderers for for-profit businesses.  Perhaps the Sanders proposed Amendment already makes this clear enough.  Is there any pragmatic way to quickly and accurately categorize whether non-profits sufficiently independent or whether they are puppets for businesses?

As the Move to Amend proposal seems to invite, do we really want to allow Congress to limit the expenditures of individuals relating to the political campaigns of others?  My own physical voice is rather limited–could the use of a personal blog be considered an expenditure that could be limited under the Move to Amend proposal?  These thorny free speech issues suggest the reason that the Sanders Amendment starkly limits its scope to for-profit organizations.

It is important to remember that what Sanders has proposed would become Constitutional law, not mere legislation, and it would strongly restrain further court decisions. The Sanders approach will reverse Citizens’ United. A Supreme Court with integrity would still have some work to do in construing the Sanders Amendment, but it would also understand what needs to be done. I suspect that Sanders took his approach of carving out non-profits because he understands that non-profit organizations are the only meaningful way for most people to be heard. At bottom, under the Sanders approach, the task does seem to be to figure out a way to distinguish true non-profits from faux non-profits. Perhaps this can be done.

I applaud Bernie Sanders for introducing his proposed Amendment.  I doubly applaud his speech, because it clearly identifies what most ails the American political system.   Hopefully the speech of Bernie Sanders will ignite lots of fruitful discussion on Capitol Hill, though the sad irony is that the waves of corrupt money currently flowing through Congress will likely stifle this critically needed conversation.

Share

Read More

Julian Assange loses extradition appeal

November 2, 2011 | By | Reply More
Julian Assange loses extradition appeal

As reported by MSNBC, Julian Assange has lost his appeal to London’s High Court, and is once again facing extradition to Sweden. His lawyers have indicated that they plan an appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court. Assange has steered supporters to a website titled Sweden vs. Assange for details and updates.

Share

Read More

About the woman who sued McDonald’s for hot coffee

October 26, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More
About the woman who sued McDonald’s for hot coffee

I had never before seen the injuries suffered by the woman who sued McDonald’s for its hot coffee. Now I have.


Excerpt from 2011 documentary "Hot Coffee" by anonymouscoward382

Share

Read More

Citizens United revisited

October 2, 2011 | By | Reply More
Citizens United revisited

At In These Times, Joel Bleifuss sums up the damage caused by The United States Supreme Court decision of Citizen’s United:

In a political system where profit-driven corporations control both the nation’s dominant political parties and the legislative agenda, it is unlikely that any policy initiatives that disadvantage corporate interests will thrive. Citizens United creates a rocky road indeed for universal healthcare, legislation to combat climate change, a clean energy policy, an economy geared toward butter rather than guns, a tax structure that provides funding for human needs, an agricultural policy that serves family farmers, ethics legislation to regulate lobbyists, prohibitions against environmental toxins and an economy that provides a living wage to all willing workers.

. . .

And by curtailing transparency, the decision “profoundly affected the nation’s political landscape,” the Center for Responsive Politics wrote in its analysis of the November 2010 general election. Citizens United allowed nonprofit 501(c)4 and 501(c)5 organizations “to spend unlimited amounts of money running … political advertisements while not revealing their donors.” Among the center’s other findings:

• “Corporate donations are likely higher than reported, as conservative nonprofit groups spent $121 million [in the 2010 general election] without disclosing where the money came from.”

• Since the 2006 midterm elections, the percentage of spending from undisclosed donors has risen from 1 to 47 percent.

• In 2010, 72 percent of political ad dollars from outside groups would have been prohibited in 2006.

This article examines several approaches being floated for combatting the destructive effects of Citizens United, including ways of amending the United States Constitution.

Share

Read More

Girl Scouts hammer cookie customers who give them bad checks

October 1, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More
Girl Scouts hammer cookie customers who give them bad checks

A few years ago, I dared to touch the third rail of alleged child entrepreneurialship when I suggested that instead of buying Girl Scout cookies, people give the Girl Scouts a direct cash donation. By offering to give the little girl at the door $5 cash (while her mother dutifully stands next to her prodding her to utter the sales pitch), it would be the equivalent of buying 10 boxes of sugary cookies (I had been told that the local troop only gets 50 cents for each $4 box of cookies sold). I stirred up quite a hornet’s nest by writing that article, despite the fact that I wrote it with good intentions (I was concerned about the top-heavy high paid administration of the national Girl Scouts organization and I was cognizant that almost 100 million Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes). Take a look at the 128 comments to that post and see the commotion yourself.

Now for another observation about the Girl Scouts. Yesterday I learned that the Girl Scouts have sued hundreds of people in Missouri courts (and presumably tens of thousands of people nationwide). The problem is that many people are handing the Girl Scouts bad checks when it comes time to pay for the cookies. Enter “Girl Scouts” in the “Litigant Name Search” at the Missouri Case Net website. You’ll find 80 pages of law suits brought in Missouri, most of them where the Girl Scouts have sued customers who allegedly gave the Girl Scouts bad checks as payment for cookies. In the City of St. Louis City alone, you’ll see ten pages of these suits on Case Net each of those pages listing eight suits.

Share

Read More

Rolling Stone examines the Catholic Church’s secret sex crime files

September 12, 2011 | By | Reply More
Rolling Stone examines the Catholic Church’s secret sex crime files

The September 15, 2011 edition of Rolling Stone shines a light on the inner-workings of the leadership of the Catholic Church, centering on an ongoing criminal case in Philadelphia involving five allegedly sexual predators (for priests and a Catholic school teacher). This is a well researched and well-written article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

The article is filled with disturbing anecdotes and statistics. For instance,

  • The US conference of Catholic Bishops funded a study that lowered the number of clergy classified as pedophiles by redefining puberty as beginning at age 10
  • “Seminary is a form of military-style indoctrination, molding meant his think institutionally, not individually it’s like a brainwashing, almost [states a former seminarian]”
  • According to a 1990 psychological study, “only half of all priests adhere to their vows of celibacy.”
  • Another study (“The Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological Investigations”) found “that three fourths of all American priests were psychologically and emotionally underdeveloped, or even mal-developed.” The attitudes of these grown men toward sex, the study concluded “were on par with those of teenagers or even preteens.”

Why has the cover-up of sexual predators continued on to the present? “The answer, in large part, lies in the mindset of the church is rigid hierarchy, which promotes officials who are willing to do virtually anything they’re told, so long as it’s in God’s name.”

The focus of the article is the conduct of high-ranking Catholic clergy who engaged in the now-well-known conduct of denying the criminal conduct of pedophile priests, and moving them from parish to parish, or school to school, rather than calling in the police, or at least defrocking the miscreant priests. Stir in additional misconduct such as hiding incriminating records and you understand the criminal minds of much of the leadership of the modern Catholic Church, an organization that claims moral authority while exhibiting none when it comes to the horrific conduct of many of its high-ranking leaders.

Share

Read More

Conservative Supreme Court Justice warned us about money as speech

August 26, 2011 | By | Reply More
Conservative Supreme Court Justice warned us about money as speech

Back in 1978, Justice William Renquist wrote a dissent that is extraordinary reading today. This nugget of jurisprudence was dug up by Linda Greenhouse, who write an excellent NYT Op-Ed titled “Over the Cliff.”

This dissenting justice did not take issue with a corporation’s status as a “person” in the eyes of the law (as Mitt Romney recently reminded a heckler at the Iowa State Fair). But corporate personhood was “artificial,” not “natural,” the justice observed. A corporation’s rights were not boundless but, rather, limited, and the place of “the right of political expression” on the list of corporate rights was highly questionable. “A state grants to a business corporation the blessings of potentially perpetual life and limited liability to enhance its efficiency as an economic entity,” the dissenting opinion continued. “It might reasonably be concluded that those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere … Indeed, the states might reasonably fear that the corporation would use its economic power to obtain further benefits beyond those already bestowed.”

Noting that most states, along with the federal government, had placed limits on the ability of corporations to participate in politics, the dissenting justice concluded: “The judgment of such a broad consensus of governmental bodies expressed over a period of many decades is entitled to considerable deference from this Court.

Share

Read More

License to commit contempt granted to the CIA

August 3, 2011 | By | Reply More
License to commit contempt granted to the CIA

The CIA destroyed 92 videotapes depicting torture of two prisoners, Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri during the course of litigation brought by the ACLU. Here’s how the ACLU reports the CIA conduct:

We argued that the CIA showed complete disdain for the court and the rule of law itself when it flouted several court orders to produce the videotapes and instead destroyed them. To provide some background, in September 2004, the court first ordered the CIA to produce or identify all records pertaining to the treatment of detainees in its custody, which would have included at least 92 videotapes documenting the harsh interrogation of the two prisoners. Despite the orders, the CIA never produced the tapes or even acknowledged their existence. Unbeknownst to the public, the tapes were destroyed in November 2005, a year after the court’s first order, although the destruction was not publicly revealed until 2007.

Are you ready to hear about the severe ruling by the judge. There was no contempt of court. The ruling was an invitation for the CIA to do whatever the hell it wants next time. Inconvenient evidence? No problem! Check out this part of the ruling: “The bottom line is we are in a dangerous world. We need our spies, we need surveillance, but we also need accountability.”

Share

Read More

U.S. Supreme Court prefers monied speech to liberated speech

June 28, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More
U.S. Supreme Court prefers monied speech to liberated speech

The U.S. Supreme Court has continued its project of creating coin-operated elections in America, with its decision in the Arizona case of McComish v. Bennett. The Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Arizona law that would increase state candidate financing when an opponent of a clean money candidate financially increased his or her stake in dirty money. Here’s how the stricken provision was described in the Court’s syllabus:

They are also granted additional matching funds if a privately financed candi- date’s expenditures, combined with the expenditures of independent groups made in support of the privately financed candidate or in op- position to a publicly financed candidate, exceed the publicly financed candidate’s initial state allotment. Once matching funds are trig- gered, a publicly financed candidate receives roughly one dollar for every dollar raised or spent by the privately financed candidate— including any money of his own that a privately financed candidate spends on his campaign—and for every dollar spent by independent groups that support the privately financed candidate.

Dan Froomkin of Huffpo offers this analysis:

Arizona’s law was passed in 1998 after a wave of corruption scandals. The idea was to encourage candidates to forgo the scramble for money, with all its inherent invitations to corruption — to spend more time speaking to the electorate, and less time speaking to potential funders. In that sense, its goal was very much to increase genuine political speech. But to the Roberts court, money as speech takes precedence over speech as speech.

Justice Kagan’s Dissent hammers the Majority’s pro-corruption position in the form of a story:

Imagine two States, each plagued by a corrupt political system. In both States, candidates for public office accept large campaign contributions in exchange for the promise that, after assuming office, they will rank the donors’ interests ahead of all others. As a result of these bargains, politicians ignore the public interest, sound public policy languishes, and the citizens lose confidence in their government.

Recognizing the cancerous effect of this corruption, voters of the first State, acting through referendum, enact several campaign finance measures previously approved by this Court. They cap campaign contributions; require disclosure of substantial donations; and create an optional public financing program that gives candidates a fixed public subsidy if they refrain from private fundraising. But these measures do not work. Individuals who “bundle” campaign contributions become indispensable to candidates in need of money. Simple disclosure fails to prevent shady dealing. And candidates choose not to participate in the public financing system because the sums provided do not make them competitive with their privately financed opponents. So the State remains afflicted with corruption.

Voters of the second State, having witnessed this failure, take an ever-so-slightly different tack to cleaning up their political system. They too enact contribution limits and disclosure requirements. But they believe that the greatest hope of eliminating corruption lies in creating an effective public financing program, which will break candidates’ dependence on large donors and bundlers.

[More …]

Share

Read More