People For the American Way Foundation

What Universe Is the Roberts Court Living In?

During today's oral arguments on the McCutcheon money in politics case, there was an exchange that demonstrated that the conservative Justices live in another universe, and their rulings are based on a view of the world that bears little resemblance to reality. It happened while amicus Sen. Mitch McConnell's attorney was before the bench. Justice Kagan asked a question referring to the staggering amount that one donor would be able to give to one party should the aggregate caps be struck down:

Justice Kagan: So the Speaker, the Majority Leader, can solicit $3.6 million to all the party members and you're telling me there's just no special influence that goes along with that?

Mr. Burchfield: Well, we know from the Citizens United decision, Your Honor, that gratitude and influence are not considered to be quid pro quo corruption. So I think that's what you're talking about. That is not the sort of corruption that would sustain this limit …

The Supreme Court – and even the Roberts Court – has held repeatedly that campaign finance regulations can be justified by the need to combat real or apparent corruption. But the Roberts Court has severely constricted the meaning of "corruption" so it only applies to out-and-out criminal bribery or quid pro quo corruption. But the corruption that so undermines democratic self-government and which the Founders warned about goes far beyond that. Most Americans recognize that a system where the wealthiest of the fantastically wealthy have such "gratitude and influence" from powerful elected officials – and where everyone else is silenced by comparison – is a deep corruption of the idea of government we created for ourselves in the Constitution.

But in the universe inhabited by the far-right Roberts Court, things widely recognized by the American people as corruption are just business as usual.


campaign finance, Elena Kagan, McCutcheon v. FEC, money in politics, Supreme Court