Amending the Constitution is Still the Best Long-Term Strategy
The sudden and unexpected death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia cannot be interpreted to mean anything for the movement to overturn the long string of disastrous Supreme Court rulings on the issues of corporate constitutional rights and the spending of money as a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Republicans in the U.S. Senate have already declared their intention to abdicate their responsibility to allow for an up or down vote on anyone appointed by President Obama, no doubt with tacit support from pro-corporate Democrats. There’s no reason to believe that any amount of outside pressure will change their minds or force them to act.
Assuming the GOP is successful in blocking an Obama appointee, there’s still a good chance that a Democrat will succeed President Obama next year. Unless the same party controls both the White House and the Senate after the next election, we can expect a long and protracted fight in the Supreme Court appointment process. The pro-corporate ideologues in Congress (of both parties) have shown no restraint in forcing as much of their pro-corporate, pro-big bank, pro-Wall Street agenda into statute and there’s no reason to expect that to change until elected officials are punished at the polls.
A dramatic shift in the ideological center of the U.S. Supreme Court would obviously be great news for those of us who have watched with despair as the Scalia majority repeatedly ruled in favor of institutions that place profits over patriotism. Any opportunity to slow the seemingly unstoppable momentum of the pro-corporate forces would be a cause for celebration. But we should not assume that the appointment of a new Justice who voices a disdain for Citizens United and related decisions signals the end of the work to bring about the more lasting and durable solution of amending the U.S. Constitution to prevent the Courts from being used as a means to further diminish the rights and powers of individual American citizens.
Seismic shifts in the Supreme Court happen regularly, if infrequently. A Court favorable to the view that the accumulation of money should not be the principle measure of the value of an idea or policy, should it come to pass, will not last. Even an amendment can be repealed. But it takes much more than the death of a single individual to repeal a good amendment. We must not believe we can rely on the temperance of an impermanent and deeply ideologically motivated group of nine individuals to protect American democracy.
We mourn the passing of a great American who we disagreed with by almost every measure. And we celebrate the opportunity to undo some of the damage his ideological crusade visited on American democracy and jurisprudence. But we must not, for a moment, allow ourselves to believe that the battle has even turned in our favor, let alone been won. The work of amending the U.S. Constitution to abolish corporate constitutional rights and end the doctrine of spending money as a form of protected speech goes on.