The elephant in the courtroom


Alden Graves

I know that members of the Supreme Court tend to isolate themselves from the rest of us, but a recent decision provides a good argument for their putting in an appearance into the real world occasionally.

I know that mingling and aloofness are polar opposites and a certain amount of aloofness is good for the overall image the justices need to project. Isolation, however, inevitably leads to detachment. Put in movie terms, the Roberts court is the George Clooney character in "Gravity." Hopelessly lost in space.

In terms of the court’s integrity, however, detachment is the kinder of the conclusions. If you take a self-imposed detachment out of the equation, it only leaves blatantly partisan. God forbid that anyone thinks of our noble Supreme Court in such a demeaning way.

Chief Justice John Roberts, George W. Bush’s gift to the affluent, just keeps right on giving, like a demented Energizer bunny. (A recent exhibition of Mr. Bush’s paintings conclusively proved that "artist" is another pose he doesn’t pull off very well, but he would have done far less damage to the country if he had pursued it.) Roberts, along with the intractable trio of Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas, along with perennial swing voter Anthony Kennedy, decided to vastly expand the already obscene influence of money in American politics.

For the life of them, Roberts and Company just can’t see the harm in it. Isn’t that a little like standing in a desert and not noticing the sand?

Justice Thomas, always eager to undermine anything that smacks of advancement for African Americans in the United States, wanted to take the ruling even further and completely do away with restrictions on campaign finance. This radical stand might just have its roots in the release of a movie by an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker titled "Anita." The utterance of those three little syllables must send the temperature in the Thomas household plunging below the freezing point. Mr. Thomas may still be trying to make amends to his Republican operative wife for his boorish behavior with a woman who proved to be more than his match. You can almost imagine that, instead of the traditional "Have a nice day, honey", Mrs. Thomas sends her husband off to work with a crisp "Remember, you owe me!"

The sheer ludicrousness of the court’s rationale in the McCutcheon decision illustrates a glaring problem with the entire system. It falls to politicians to appoint members of the nation’s "buck stops here" court, the final arbiter in decisions that have an incalculable societal impact. Do the prevailing justices in this case honestly believe that a politician is going to give an equal amount of consideration to the concerns of someone who is only able to make a $100 contribution to a political campaign as he will to someone with the resources to donate millions of dollars?

This country has, thankfully, moved beyond the halcyon days of genuflection to the rich that characterized the Bush years. More importantly, we have seen first-hand what vast infusions of money into political campaigns has wrought us in terms of elected leaders and the inevitable focus of their concerns. Paul Ryan’s proposed budget, that recently passed in the GOP controlled House, is a Jack the Ripper style evisceration of the social programs and safety nets designed to help underprivileged Americans while it proposes a 25-percent cut in income taxes for the wealthy. Behold Republican priorities in all their stark and unvarnished reality.

John Roberts, of course, stunned the conservative world by breaking ranks with the nice folks who wanted to deny health care accessibility to millions of Americans. The chief justice could not find any aspect of the Affordable Care Act that would render it unconstitutional, much to the dismay of people who count on Play Doh interpretations of that storied document to get what they want. (Look how well the approach has worked with guns.)

The ACA has proven to be a major success, with an initial enrollment that met the government’s set goal. The total of subscribers is now inching up towards the 10 million mark, despite its opponents’ subtle ploy to attach the word "disastrous" before any reference to it. It isn’t entirely disingenuous as far as the GOP is concerned because even a modest success has disastrous implications for them.

The Supreme Court decision reinforces a triad of lynchpins that a once vital American political party needs to remain a viable force in the country: gerrymandering, voter manipulation, and limitless amounts of money. But that isn’t really a future, it’s the first draft of a eulogy. The corporate jets were all lined up in Boston to toast super rich Mitt Romney’s ascension to the Oval Office and that didn’t turn out so well. I wouldn’t be at all surprised that sometime in the not to distant future, when the American people finally have had their fill of pay for play, that the Koch brother’s brand of political manipulation flies home with very little to show for all of that capital outlay. They haven’t figured out a way to buy off our hope yet.

Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.


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