Today's Supreme Court ruling granting corporations the right to spend unlimited sums for and against candidates in federal elections is expected, devastating for democracy, and extremely difficult to undo.
It's impact may even be worse than the damage caused by the selection of George W. Bush in December, 2000. Of course, the current 5-4 conservative majority is a direct result of Bush's election given his successful nominations of Justices Roberts and Alito.
It is expected because the conservative Supreme Court majority literally requested that the case come before it. This is not unprecedented but highly unusual and reflective of the growing aggressiveness of that majority in rewriting precedent.
It is devastating for democracy because the dollars available to corporations, should they choose to engage, dwarf other sources of campaign expenditures. This ruling will have an effect on policy and elections literally today. Those running for elections this fall will know that every policy vote will be watched closely by corporate interests. Too many of today's elected officials lack the bravery to stand up to this level of implicit pressure. Today, corporations influence policy through a variety of means, with the most expensive being through lobbying. We can expected a significant share of those lobbying dollars to move into electoral expenditures.
It will be extremely difficult to undo because doing so will require either a constitutional amendment to declare that corporations are not persons or a material change in the composition of the court. The first is simply impossible and the second extremely difficult even if one of the conservative majority retires. The Republican minority has shown extraordinary discipline, and emboldened by Massachusetts and this ruling, will have every reason to filibuster any court nominee that might rule differently. And, of course, the Court ruling materially changes the odds that there will be a Democratic majority in the Senate after November.
It may be that it will be possible for pro-democracy forces to pressure corporations to limit electoral contributions through disclosure and consumer boycotts, although the financial calculus faced by corporations may not be favorable to this strategy.
This is a very dark day for U.S. democracy, not to mention the world. Corporate influence already has severely warped U.S. policy in critical areas, and it is only going to get worse.
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