If ever we needed a clear and unambiguous example of why control of the Supreme Court is more important than it’s ever been, here it is.
Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell was charged, indicted and convicted on charges of bribery and corruption. He accepted “gifts” and money in exchange for opening doors for, and exerting influence on behalf of, Jonnie Williams, a rich businessman with a product to sell. He gave McDonnell “loans,” lent him a Ferrari to tool around in, paid for a ridiculous shopping spree in NY for his wife, etc. etc. The entire affair was so blatant and sleazy that even McDonnell’s connections and money couldn’t save him.
But now, the crooked governor and his legal team are going to the Supreme Court to argue that bribery is actually…wait for it…”free speech” because of the Citizens United decision:
Paying for ‘access’ — the ability to get a call answered or a meeting scheduled — is constitutionally protected and an intrinsic part of our political system,” they said in their appeal. “If Gov. McDonnell can be imprisoned for giving routine access to a gift-giver, an official could equally be imprisoned for agreeing to answer a donor’s phone call about a policy issue.
If that sounds like an insane defense, you don’t understand exactly what the right-wing of the Supreme Court did with Citizens United. They didn’t just say money is free speech, they said unlimited money isn’t a form of bribery at all:
The possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner influence over or access to elected officials” is not evidence of bribery or corruption, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said two years ago in striking down the limits on how much in total a single donor may give to a field of candidates. “Ingratiation and access… are not corruption,” he said, quoting from the Citizens United opinion.
Now, McDonnell is on weak ground here as his arrangement was quid pro quo, something Roberts did not signal direct approval of. But the Roberts Court has a nasty history of making up a new precedent and then basing future decisions on it. Ever since Citizens United, the Roberts Court has taken an ax to campaign spending laws in an effort to let the rich take control of the entire system. It is perfectly conceivable that they would eventually arrive at the conclusion that it’s just fine if the rich giving money directly to politicians so they’ll perform like trained circus seals. We can’t penalize the rich by denying them the use all of their money, right? That’s just not fair!
If you think I’m wearing a tinfoil hat, consider the fact that the Supreme Court chose to accept the case last year instead of just denying it. Clearly, the right-wing justices wanted the chance to rule on it. Buuuuuuuuuut…without the toxic presence of Scalia, there’s little to no chance that the 4 liberal justices will agree to handing the entire government over to billionaires. What a damn shame. And sadly for McDonnell, the lower court, filled with mostly Obama nominees, did not agree with his argument so when the Supreme Court deadlocks on the case, the lower court’s ruling will stand and it’s off to jail for him.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why control of the courts is THE most critical thing in today’s political climate.
Featured image via Getty