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Context of 'February 2, 2010: Supreme Court Justice Publicly Defends ‘Citizens United’ Ruling'

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Senator Benjamin Tillman, an ardent segregationist who once said, ‘My Democracy means white supremacy.’ Senator Benjamin Tillman, an ardent segregationist who once said, ‘My Democracy means white supremacy.’ [Source: Black Americans in Congress]President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt signs the Tillman Act into law. The Act prohibits monetary contributions to national political campaigns by corporations and national banks. Roosevelt, dogged by allegations that he had accepted improper donations during his 1904 presidential campaign, has pushed for such restrictions since he took office (see August 23, 1902 and December 5, 1905). [Federal Elections Commission, 1998; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Senator Benjamin Tillman (D-SC), later described by National Public Radio as a “populist and virulent racist,” sponsored the bill. [National Public Radio, 2012] In 1900, Tillman was quoted as saying about black voters: “We have done our level best. We have scratched our heads to find out how we could eliminate every last one of them. We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it.” [Atlas, 2010, pp. 205] Unfortunately, the law is easily circumvented. Businesses and corporations give employees large “bonuses” with the understanding that the employee then gives the bonus to a candidate “endorsed” by the firm. Not only do the corporations find and exploit this loophole, they receive an additional tax deduction for “employee benefits.” The law will be amended to cover primary elections in 1911 (see 1911). [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: Benjamin Tillman, Theodore Roosevelt, Tillman Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Joe Wilson attempting to shout down President Obama.Joe Wilson attempting to shout down President Obama. [Source: Politics Daily]President Obama gives a speech touting his administration’s health care reform efforts to a joint session of Congress. The speech, at times forceful and other times attempting to reach across party lines for a bipartisan reform effort, is primarly designed to unify Democrats against a near-unified Republican opposition. Obama denounces some of the most egregious misrepresentations about the health care reform effort, including the so-called “death panel” claim (see August 7, 2009, August 15, 2009, and August 23-24, 2009), in which he calls the people who spread the tale “liars.” He warns Republicans that he will brook no more gamesmanship from them in the effort to craft a reform bill. “What we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government,” he says. “Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned. Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed.” Democrats roundly cheer Obama’s words; Republicans generally do not. [Politico, 9/9/2009; Washington Post, 9/9/2009; Salon, 9/9/2009] The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza later notes that the speech is stronger on rhetoric than it is on specifics. [Washington Post, 9/9/2009] Salon’s Joan Walsh, an avowed progressive, calls the speech “great” and writes: “What was most important about Obama’s address was his declaration that he won’t tolerate any more ‘lies’ or ‘bogus claims’ from the GOP. Yes, he used those terms.… My only real criticism is I wish he’d found a way to do this two months ago. Obama has never before been so lucid in explaining why reform is crucial.” [Salon, 9/9/2009]
Health Care an Economic Issue - Obama insists that reforming health care is critical to managing America’s continuing economic crisis, and key to shrinking the huge deficit. He says: “Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.” However, as Walsh writes: “I was not crazy about his firm promise, ‘I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficit.’ I’m not sure he can keep that promise, for one thing, and it’s not a pledge he makes when asking for more money for Afghanistan, or for the not terribly stimulative tax cut he included in the stimulus bill.” [Salon, 9/9/2009; Salon, 9/9/2009]
No Commitment to the Public Option - While Obama’s rhetoric is at times tough, he does not directly embrace the idea of a “public option,” the proposed government-run, non-profit alternative to private health insurance. Many Democrats, particularly those in the progressive wing of the party, are strongly in favor of such a measure. “It is only one part of my plan,” Obama says of the option. “To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end—and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.” [Politico, 9/9/2009; Salon, 9/9/2009] He notes that he has no interest in punishing the health care insurance industry, saying, “I don’t want to put insurance companies out of business, I just want to hold them accountable.” [Salon, 9/9/2009]
Evoking Senator Kennedy - Near the end of the speech, Obama evokes the memory of former Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who died recently of brain cancer. Kennedy characterized health care reform as the centerpiece of his political agenda, and fought for it throughout his lengthy stay in the Senate. Obama reveals that Kennedy sent the White House a letter in his last days (see May 12, 2009), asking Obama and his fellow members of Congress to keep fighting for health care reform for the betterment of all Americans. Referring to Kennedy’s message, Obama closes with the line: “We did not come here to fear the future. We came here to shape it.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2009] Walsh says of the letter, “It let Obama return to his theme that health care in this wealthy nation is a moral issue and a matter of social justice.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2009]
'You Lie!' - During the speech, when Obama says that the health care legislation being crafted by Congressional Democrats does not offer free health care to illegal immigrants, Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouts, “You lie!” Many lawmakers gasp at Wilson’s outburst, but Obama merely points an admonishing finger in the direction of the shout and continues his address. (It takes some time to identify Wilson as the shouter, as he quickly sinks back into his seat among his fellow Republican House members.) The Associated Press writes, “The nastiness of August reached from the nation’s town halls” in Wilson’s outburst; Politico’s Glenn Thrush later calls Wilson’s shout “boorish,” and notes that his outburst “enraged audience members on both sides of the aisle.” Wilson’s disruptive behavior is only one of a number of displays of disagreement from Republicans during the address; many spend time during the speech texting on their Blackberries or waving copies of GOP reform proposals. After the speech, Wilson is chastised by, among others, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and he offers an apology to Obama through the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel (see September 9-10, 2009). [Politico, 9/9/2009; Associated Press, 9/9/2009] Cillizza later writes that the image of Republicans shouting at the president or showing their contempt for his message by texting during the speech gives a poor impression of them. “The more Republicans look like they are opposing the Democratic plan for partisan reasons, the more danger they are in politically,” he writes. [Washington Post, 9/9/2009]
Responses - Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), considered a possible opponent to many reform provisions, says he came away from the speech impressed. “I think it was a bit of a game-changer,” he says. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says, “The speech galvanized support along the Democratic Caucus across the political spectrum, from the progressive caucus to the Blue Dogs, and everybody left determined to get something done this year.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has a different response, ignoring the behavior of his own party members to accuse Obama of behaving in an undignified manner. “I was incredibly disappointed in the tone of his speech,” he says. “At times, I found his tone to be overly combative and believe he behaved in a manner beneath the dignity of the office. I fear his speech tonight has made it more difficult—not less—to find common ground. He appeared to be angry at his critics and disappointed the American people were not buying the proposals he has been selling.… If the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats go down this path and push a bill on the American people they do not want, it could be the beginning of the end of the Obama presidency.” Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is running for the Illinois Senate seat once occupied by Obama, says: “He talked at us. He didn’t listen to us.… It was a missed opportunity.” However, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), one of the Obama administration’s most consistent critics, calls the speech “good,” and says: “I’m willing to compromise to get things fixed. But I’m not willing to put the government in charge because we don’t have a good track record.” [Politico, 9/9/2009] Political scientist Morris Fiorina calls Wilson’s outburst “a new low for the contemporary era,” and adds, “Some politicians seem to be adopting radio talk show hosts and cable TV commentators as their role models.” [USA Today, 9/10/2009]
Armed Man Attempted to Get to Capitol before Speech - Shortly before Obama’s speech, Capitol Police arrested a man trying to enter the Capitol grounds with a shotgun and a rifle (see September 9, 2009).

Entity Tags: Glenn Thrush, Tom Coburn, Barack Obama, Chris Van Hollen, Chris Cillizza, Rahm Emanuel, Ben Nelson, Mark Steven Kirk, Joan Walsh, Morris Fiorina, Joe Wilson, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, John McCain, Lindsey Graham

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

Three of the Supreme Court justices in the majority decision: Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy.Three of the Supreme Court justices in the majority decision: Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy. [Source: Associated Press / Politico]The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that corporate spending in political elections may not be banned by the federal government. The case is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205. The Court is divided among ideological lines, with the five conservatives voting against the four moderates and liberals on the bench. The decision overrules two precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, and rules that corporate financial support for a party or candidate qualifies as “freedom of speech” (see March 11, 1957, January 30, 1976, May 11, 1976, April 26, 1978, January 8, 1980, November 28, 1984, December 15, 1986, June 26, 1996, June 25, 2007, and June 26, 2008). The majority rules that the government may not regulate “political speech,” while the dissenters hold that allowing corporate money to, in the New York Times’s words, “flood the political marketplace,” would corrupt the democratic process. The ramifications of the decision will be vast, say election specialists. [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 pdf file; New York Times, 1/21/2010] In essence, the ruling overturns much of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold law (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). The ruling leaves the 1907 ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates and national party committees intact (see 1907). The ban on corporate and union donors coordinating their efforts directly with political parties or candidates’ campaigns remains in place; they must maintain “independence.” Any corporation spending more than $10,000 a year on electioneering efforts must publicly disclose the names of individual contributors. And the ruling retains some disclosure and disclaimer requirements, particularly for ads airing within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. The Los Angeles Times writes: “The decision is probably the most sweeping and consequential handed down under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. And the outcome may well have an immediate impact on this year’s mid-term elections to Congress.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; OMB Watch, 1/27/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 2/2/2010; National Public Radio, 2012]
Unregulated Money Impacts Midterm Elections - The decision’s effects will be felt first on a national level in the 2010 midterm elections, when unregulated corporate spending will funnel millions of dollars from corporate donors into Congressional and other races. President Obama calls the decision “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies, and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising, says the Court “took what had been a revolving door and took the door away altogether. There was something there that slowed the money down. Now it’s gone.” [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 pdf file; New York Times, 1/21/2010; Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; Think Progress, 1/21/2010]
Broadening in Scope - According to reporter and author Jeffrey Toobin, CU lawyer Theodore Olson had originally wanted to present the case as narrowly as possible, to ensure a relatively painless victory that would not ask the Court to drastically revise campaign finance law. But according to Toobin, the conservative justices, and particularly Chief Justice Roberts, want to use the case as a means of overturning much if not all of McCain-Feingold (see May 14, 2012). In the original argument of the case in March 2009 (see March 15, 2009), Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart unwittingly changed the scope of the case in favor of a broader interpretation, and gave Roberts and the other conservative justices the opportunity they may have been seeking. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Majority Opinion Grants Corporations Rights of Citizens - The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, reads in part: “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.… The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.” In essence, Kennedy’s ruling finds, corporations are citizens. The ruling overturns two precedents: 1990’s Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates (see March 27, 1990) in its entirety, and large portions of 2003’s McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (see December 10, 2003), which upheld a portion of the BCRA that restricted campaign spending by corporations and unions. Before today’s ruling, the BCRA banned the broadcast, cable, or satellite transmission of “electioneering communications” paid for by corporations or labor unions from their general funds in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections. The law was restricted in 2007 by a Court decision to apply only to communications “susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate” (see June 25, 2007).
Encroachment on Protected Free Speech - Eight of the nine justices agree that Congress can require corporations to disclose their spending and to run disclaimers with their advertisements; Justice Clarence Thomas is the only dissenter on this point. Kennedy writes, “Disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way.” Kennedy’s opinion states that if the restrictions remain in place, Congress could construe them to suppress political speech in newspapers, on television news programs, in books, and on the Internet. Kennedy writes: “When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”
Fiery Dissent - Justice John Paul Stevens, the oldest member of the court, submits a fiery 90-page dissent that is joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. Kennedy is joined by Roberts and fellow Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Thomas, though Roberts and Alito submit a concurring opinion instead of signing on with Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas. “The difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind,” Stevens writes in his dissent. “And selling access is not qualitatively different from giving special preference to those who spent money on one’s behalf.” Stevens writes that the Court has long recognized the First Amendment rights of corporations, but the restrictions struck down by the decision are moderate and fair. “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Speaking from the bench, Stevens calls the ruling “a radical change in the law… that dramatically enhances the role of corporations and unions—and the narrow interests they represent—in determining who will hold public office.… Corporations are not human beings. They can’t vote and can’t run for office,” and should be restricted under election law. “Essentially, five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”
Case Originated with 2008 Political Documentary - The case originated in a 2008 documentary by the right-wing advocacy group Citizens United (CU), called Hillary: The Movie (see January 10-16, 2008). The film, a caustic attack on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Democrats in general, was released for public viewing during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. When the Federal Election Commission (FEC) won a lawsuit against CU, based on the FEC’s contention that broadcasting the film violated McCain-Feingold, the group abandoned plans to release the film on a cable video-on-demand service and to broadcast television advertisements for it. CU appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, and most observers believed the Court would decide the case on narrow grounds, not use the case to rewrite election law and First Amendment coverage. [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 pdf file; New York Times, 1/21/2010; Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; Think Progress, 1/21/2010; Associated Press, 1/21/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 2/2/2010]
Case Brought in Order to Attack Campaign Finance Law - Critics have said that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, an opponent of the decision, says: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” CU head David Bossie confirms this contention, saying after the decision: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” [Washington Post, 1/22/2010]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Citizens United, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Barack Obama, Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, New York Times, Nick Nyhart, Evan Tracey, David Bossie, Hillary Clinton, Jeffrey Toobin, Federal Election Commission, John Paul Stevens, Malcolm Stewart, John G. Roberts, Jr, Los Angeles Times

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito listens to President Obama’s State of the Union address.Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito listens to President Obama’s State of the Union address. [Source: Renovo Media]President Obama sharply criticizes the recent Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, giving corporations and unions the right to give unlimited and anonymous donations to organizations supporting or opposing political candidates (see January 21, 2010), during the annual State of the Union address. Obama gives the address to a joint session of Congress, with three Supreme Court members in attendance. “With all due deference to the separation of powers,” Obama says, “last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.” Democrats in the chamber applaud Obama’s remarks, while Republicans do not. In his response, Justice Samuel Alito, one of the five conservatives on the Court who joined in the majority decision, shakes his head and mouths, “Not true, not true” (some lip readers will later claim that Alito says, “That’s not true”). It is highly unusual for a president to so directly criticize a Supreme Court ruling, especially in a State of the Union address. The next day, Vice President Joe Biden defends Obama’s remarks in an appearance on Good Morning America. Biden says: “The president didn’t question the integrity of the court. He questioned the judgment of it. I think [the ruling] was dead wrong and we have to correct it.” Supreme Court expert Lucas A. Powe says, “I can’t ever recall a president taking a swipe at the Supreme Court like that.” Experts say that the closest precedent they can find is President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 criticism of the Court in his address to Congress. Yale law professor Jack Balkin says, “The important thing to me is that the president thinks the Citizens United decision is important enough that he would include it.” Reactions are split along ideological lines. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) calls Obama “rude” to criticize the Court’s verdict. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) calls Alito’s reaction “inappropriate.” Legal expert Barbara A. Perry of Sweet Briar College says both Obama and Alito were in the wrong, calling the interaction “an unfortunate display for both branches.” White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton says: “One of the great things about our democracy is that powerful members of the government at high levels can disagree in public and in private. This is one of those cases.” Alito refuses to comment. Alito and Obama have a contentious history. As a senator, Obama was one of the most outspoken voices against Alito’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006), saying then of Alito, “[W]hen you look at his record—when it comes to his understanding of the Constitution, I have found that in almost every case, he consistently sides on behalf of the powerful against the powerless; on behalf of a strong government or corporation against upholding American’s individual rights.” For his part, Alito snubbed the formal visit paid by Obama and Biden to the Court. [New York Daily News, 1/28/2010; Washington Post, 1/28/2010] Months later, Obama’s warning will be proven to be correct, as a media investigation will show the US Chamber of Commerce using foreign monies to fund attack ads and other political activities under the cloak of the Citizens United decision (see October 2010).

Entity Tags: Jack Balkin, Barbara A. Perry, Barack Obama, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, US Congress, US Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, Orrin Hatch, Lucas A. (“Scot”) Powe, Joseph Biden, US Chamber of Commerce, Russell D. Feingold, Bill Burton

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In a highly unusual action for a sitting Supreme Court Justice, Justice Clarence Thomas strongly defends the Court’s recent Citizens United ruling that allows unlimited corporate and union funding of campaign activities (see January 21, 2010). He makes his remarks at the Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Florida. Thomas was part of the 5-4 majority that ruled on the case. He also says that he refused to attend the recent State of the Union address by President Obama, where fellow Justice Samuel Alito apparently contradicted Obama’s critical characterization of the ruling (see January 27-29, 2010), because under Obama, these addresses have become “partisan,” stating: “I don’t go because it has become so partisan and it’s very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there… there’s a lot that you don’t hear on TV—the catcalls, the whooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments (see September 9, 2009). One of the consequences is now the Court becomes part of the conversation, if you want to call it that, in the speeches. It’s just an example of why I don’t go.” Thomas mocks media criticisms of the ruling, saying: “I found it fascinating that the people who were editorializing against it were The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company. These are corporations.” It is a mistake, Thomas says, to consider regulation of corporations’ campaign activities as “some sort of beatific action,” and he cites the 1907 Tillman Act, the first federal legislation banning corporate contributions to federal candidates (see 1907), as being sparked by racism, saying: “Go back and read why [Senator Benjamin] Tillman introduced that legislation. Tillman was from South Carolina, and as I hear the story he was concerned that the corporations, Republican corporations, were favorable toward blacks and he felt that there was a need to regulate them.” Thomas says the underpinning of the decision was the First Amendment’s protection of speech regardless of how people choose to assemble to participate in the political process. “If 10 of you got together and decided to speak, just as a group, you’d say you have First Amendment rights to speak and the First Amendment right of association,” he says. “If you all then formed a partnership to speak, you’d say we still have that First Amendment right to speak and of association. But what if you put yourself in a corporate form?” The answer would be the same, Thomas says. [New York Times, 2/3/2010]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Barack Obama, Clarence Thomas, Tillman Act, US Supreme Court, Washington Post, Samuel Alito

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Some “tea party” leaders express their dislike of the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections (see January 21, 2010), a position that puts them at odds with the Republican Party and mainstream US conservatism. Hours after the decision was handed down, Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele hailed it as “an important step in the direction of restoring the First Amendment rights” of corporations (see January 21, 2010, January 22, 2010, and February 2, 2010), but some tea partiers see the decision much differently. Texas tea party activist Shane Brooks says in an email to Talking Points Memo reporter Zachary Roth: “This decision basically gives the multinational corporations owned by foreign entities [the right] to pour unlimited funds into the pockets of corrupt corporate backed politicians to attack everything this country stands for. We might as well be able to vote for Disney or the SEIU as president of the United States of America.” Nashville Tea Party official Kevin Smith recently wrote that the ruling “puts corporations in a position to crowd out smaller competition and buy politicians from the local sheriff to the president himself.” Dale Robertson, the leader of TeaParty.org, said after the decision: “It just allows them to feed the machine. Corporations are not like people. Corporations exist forever, people don’t. Our founding fathers never wanted them; these behemoth organizations that never die, so they can collect an insurmountable amount of profit. It puts the people at a tremendous disadvantage.” Sacramento tea party activist Jim Knapp tells Roth: “Most of the anger by tea party supporters is directed at the effects of special interest money.… I believe that campaign finance reform is the most important political issue facing America. I would even go so far as to say that this issue is even more important that our current financial crisis and jobs. Everything in American politics is affected by special interest money. From who controls our monetary policies in treasury and the Fed to regulation of Wall Street. I would also venture to say that it was special interest money which precipitated the current economic crisis.” Everett Wilkinson, the leader of a Florida tea party group, tells Roth that his group has “mixed feelings” about the ruling. On the one hand, he says, “getting corporations more involved with politics could be a detrimental thing.” The ruling also upholds free speech, he counters. FreedomWorks, the lobbying organization that helped found the tea party movement, and officials of the Tea Party Patriots refuse to speak to the issue with Roth. The reporter writes: “[T]heir opposition to the Court’s ruling on behalf of corporations hints at an ideological split between the movement and the GOP that has long existed under the surface. Tea Partiers—especially the rank-and-file activists, as opposed to the movement leaders—often embrace a more populist, anti-corporate position than does the Republican Party, or the conservative movement that under-girds it. This difference underlies much of the tension we’re increasingly seeing between Tea Partiers and the GOP.” [TPM Muckraker, 2/3/2010]

Entity Tags: Kevin Smith, Dale Robertson, Everett Wilkinson, Jim Knapp, Republican Party, US Supreme Court, Michael Steele, Zachary Roth, FreedomWorks, Shane Brooks

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Chief Justice John Roberts tells a group of law students that President Obama and Congressional Democrats turned the recent State of the Union address into a “pep rally” targeting Court justices, and questions the need for justices to attend the event. During the speech, Obama criticized the Citizens United decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising (see January 21, 2010), and Justice Samuel Alito drew media attention by mouthing the words “Not true” in response to Obama’s remarks (see January 27-29, 2010). Roberts is referring to the fact that many Congressional Democrats cheered the president’s remarks. He calls the event “very troubling,” and says, “To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I’m not sure why we are there.” Six of the Court’s nine justices, including Alito and Roberts, were in attendance. Roberts says he is less concerned about the criticism of the Court than the expectation that the justices must sit silently: “Anybody can criticize the Supreme Court.… I have no problem with that. The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the Court—according to the requirements of protocol—has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling. It does cause me to think… why are we there?” Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas did not attend, complaining that the address would be a “partisan” event (see February 2, 2010), and Justice John Paul Stevens, who strongly dissented from the Citizens United decision, did not attend due to age and health issues. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs responds strongly to Roberts’s remarks, saying, “What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections, drowning out the voices of average Americans.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/10/2010] Three weeks after Roberts makes his observations, conservative talk show host David Limbaugh will call Obama’s criticisms a “public assault” on the justices. [David Limbaugh, 4/5/2012]

Entity Tags: John Paul Stevens, Barack Obama, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John G. Roberts, Jr, Samuel Alito, David Limbaugh, Robert Gibbs, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Columnist Adam White, writing for the conservative Weekly Standard, lambasts a recent article by the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin about the internal decision-making process behind the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010 and May 14, 2012). Most publications describe the decision as allowing corporations and labor unions to spend money freely in campaigns, but White defines it differently, calling it an affirmation of “a corporation’s First Amendment right to spend money on independent speech on political issues, even when that speech criticizes candidates for office” (see January 21, 2010, January 22, 2010, and February 2, 2010). Law professors Tom Goldstein and Jonathan Adler have found some “spin” in Toobin’s account of events (see May 14, 2012), and law professor Richard Hasen has asked that a draft dissent highly critical of the decision and its methodology be made public to shed light on Toobin’s narrative (see May 14-16, 2012). However, White goes significantly further than any of the professors in tarring Toobin’s article, and in some instances Toobin himself. White writes flatly that everyone outside of “Toobin’s base,” presumably meaning liberals who comprise “Chief Justice [John] Roberts’s critics,” is “skeptical” of the article, and cites Goldstein and National Review columnist Ed Whelan (see May 15-17, 2012) as examples of those presumed skeptics who have “poured cold water” on the story. According to White, Toobin “front-load[ed] his story with easily disprovable mischaracterizations of the case” that [e]ven a cursory review of the case’s briefs, and contemporary news coverage, disproves Toobin’s thesis” of Roberts using a narrowly drawn case to revamp and invalidate most of US campaign finance law. White writes that Toobin’s characterization of the narrow focus of the case is wrong: “The First Amendment stakes were well known, and much discussed, in the run-up to oral argument.” He cites the New York Times editorial published at the time of the first arguments, in March 2009 (see March 23, 2009), warning that if the Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, “it would create an enormous loophole in the law and allow corporate money to flood into partisan politics in ways it has not in many decades. It also would seriously erode the disclosure rules for campaign contributions.” He also notes that respected court reporter Lyle Denniston warned before the oral arguments that the Citizens United case threatened to deliver “a sweeping rejection of Congressional authority to regulate campaign spending by corporations.” Toobin himself made some of the same arguments on CNN the day of the arguments, White notes. He calls Toobin’s version of events in the article a “clumsy fictionalization of the case” designed to vilify Roberts. He also questions Toobin’s characterization of the first arguments from Citizens United (CU) lawyer Theodore Olson, going considerably further than either Goldstein or Adler in accusing Toobin of fundamentally misrepresenting Olson’s original, narrowly focused case. According to White, Olson’s opening argument claimed that the restriction being challenged by CU was “unconstitutional as applied to the distribution of Citizens United’s documentary film through video on demand… [it] plainly exceeds Congress’s sharply limited authority to abridge the freedom of speech.” White claims that Olson cited First Amendment grounds in a portion of the arguments not reported by Toobin, and quotes from Olson’s argument; that quote describes Olson’s citation of the 2007 case Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL—see Mid-2004 and After and June 25, 2007), which indeed used First Amendment grounds for its successful positioning, and quotes Olson as saying the WRTL decision “errs on the side of permitting the speech, not prohibiting the speech.” White accuses Toobin of deliberately misrepresenting Olson’s argument to “advanc[e] his own anti-Roberts narrative.” White is unable to check the accuracy of Toobin’s behind-the-scenes narrative, as Toobin’s sources are not revealed in the article, but White is “skeptical,” writing, “Given Toobin’s inability of accurately handling straightforward, easily confirmable facts, why should anyone take at face value Toobin’s description of the justices’ private discussions, and their draft opinions—especially when Toobin only describes, never quotes, those deliberations or draft opinions?” Like Adler, Toobin questions the ethics of the person or persons at the Court who “leaked” the story to Toobin. [Weekly Standard, 5/17/2012]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Ed Whelan, Adam White, Jeffrey Toobin, Lyle Denniston, John G. Roberts, Jr, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Jonathan Adler, Richard L. Hasen, Thomas Goldstein

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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