Significant American values are being redefined. What we thought was “America” is being reinvented, taking a sharp turn to the right…by a vote of 5-4. It began in 2000 when the US Supreme Court elected George W. Bush president on a 5-4 vote. He then used his two terms to pack the Court with activist judges who have consistently set aside long standing legal precedent making the country safe for radically right wing beliefs.
Their crusades continued yesterday when the high court voted 5-4 striking down a state law providing matching public funds where a candidate was competing with an opponent able to massively outspend her. Arizona had deemed it in the best interest of democracy to limit the raw influence hard cash has on the political system. The state legislature enacted the law giving all candidates, not just the wealthy, a chance to run while allowing privately financed candidates to spend as much as they want.
This exercise of state’s rights ran afoul of the Supreme Court’s view of democracy, plutocracy or theocracy...whatever may be their ultimate goal. So much for the conservative mantra about state’s rights. By a one vote margin, money will continue to rule Arizona elections.
This 5-4 vote has become the norm. It’s not only the margin by which the Court elected Bush, it is the same margin by which the Court drove the last nail in democracy’s coffin in the Citizens United case when five of the nine justices corporations have a Constitutional right to buy elections at wholesale prices.
By that same 5-4 fringe, these activist judges trashed consumer protections against Wall Street bandits ruling the investment adviser who gives you such poor advice that you lose your life savings cannot be held liable even for false statements made in a fund prospectus. If you bone up on what all that legalese means you might be able to protect yourself from crooked Wall Street folks but you cannot protect yourself from these five members of the Supreme Court.
These same five
took AT&T’s side against you. When AT&T asked the Court to allow it to use the fine print of contracts to eliminate class actions, a practice that flouts the laws of 20 states, the Court said those state laws are out…by a vote of, yes…5-4. Similarly, the same five trumped federal anti-age discrimination law when a large employer told the nine justices they’d rather face an arbitrator than a jury. Five of the nine said that sounded good to them although they had to void years of precedent to do so.
They were 5-4 votes that released thousands of prisoners from California prisons, erased the ability of inner-city governments to restrict gun ownership despite high rates of gun crime and eliminated the local control of school boards seeking to achieve racial balance in their districts.
Of the 72 cases decided since October, fully a third were decided by 5-4 votes. Compare that with the previous session, when only 15 percent of the cases in the previous term were decided by one-vote margins. But those numbers do not tell the story. The story is in the impact of these 5-4 votes on our democracy, state’s rights, our economic system and a citizen’s rights to seek redress from the courts.
But by a vote of 5-4, we will live with the results well into the next generation.