A level playing field, in which all Americans have equal political power, is at the core of everything America is and aspires to be. If “all men are created equal,” then shouldn’t all men, and women, too, have an equal opportunity to influence the political life of our country?
Tonight Donald Trump announced Judge Neil Gorsuch as his choice to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court today, and if confirmed, Gorsuch’s views on Citizens United and money in politics will shape our democracy for decades to come. The Senate must refuse to confirm any nominee who is not fully committed to leveling the playing field between wealthy donors and ordinary citizens.
The Supreme Court has been the biggest barrier to political reform in the last few decades because of its insistence that Congress or the states can limit the influence of money in politics only to prevent corruption. Corruption is clearly bad for our democracy, but the damaging effect of money in politics extends far beyond explicit quid pro quo bribery. The Court has struck down key protections against big money, including limits on total campaign spending, limits on self-funding of campaigns, bans on election spending by corporations and unions, and more, all of which elevate the voices of a wealthy few over others.
This isn’t just about Citizens United (although it’s certainly the worst example), it’s about an all-encompassing view of what free speech means and what the First Amendment entails. Should the First Amendment really protect the ability of the wealthy to spend an unlimited amount of money to drown out the voices of average Americans, rather than just protecting the content of speech? It seems almost absurd to argue that those with more money should get more political speech. The strength of your voice should not depend on the size of your wallet.
This issue lies at the core of our democracy, and its repair must be a priority for the Supreme Court. Reform in other areas is virtually impossible when wealthy special interests control our elected officials. Until our government is actually accountable to ALL the people instead of just those who are writing them checks, meaningful change is going to be an uphill battle. This means that we absolutely cannot have another Supreme Court justice who believes that money equals speech.
Gorsuch will make impactful decisions on countless cases during his tenure on the court, but nothing will be as important as the decisions that address the fundamentals of our democracy. The Senate should understand this and treat President Trump’s nominee accordingly. If he is not committed to overturning Citizens United and reestablishing the principle that the Constitution guarantees equal political power to all Americans, not just the wealthy, then he must be rejected. The fate of our democracy depends on it.