Quotation of the Week: Supreme Court Justice Stevens

Today’s decision is 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 … [i]t 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.–Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, on the landmark decision on Citizens versus Federal Election Commission.    The Court in a 5/4 decision made this on the basis of “free speech.”How did this come about?  Of course, it’s easy to say it was a political decision made by the conservative side of the court.  And there may well be truth in that.However, the public face of the decision will a constructivist or originalist approach to the reading of the Constitution, a perspective that has been part of the debate on the meaning of the constitution.A bit of background.  Especially since Scalia assumed his position on the Supreme Court in1986, Americans have debated the meaning of the Constitution ferociously.  Some, like Scalia, believe that the Constitution has an absolute original meaning and wants us to recover that absolute original meaning in our current interpretations of the Constitution.  It’s a position not unlike that of religious fundamentalists who essentially believe they have a magic book in the form of the Bible.Still others believe that the Constitution means today whatever we want it to mean, and that’s what is meant by a “living Constitution.”  To follow my analogy of the “magic book,”  in contrast, these people are highly relativistic in their approach to the interpretation of the Constitution.Neither of these extreme positions, of course, is correct.  As Gordon Wood, perhaps the dean of American historians of the revolutionary period, puts it,Historians know that the meaning of the Constitution has changed and will continue to change through time.  But they also know that no one is free today to give whatever meaning he or she wants to give to it. . . . History, experience, and custom are powerful restraints on what we can think and do.  We are not as free from the past as we think we are. I’m wary of both originalistic and relativistic thinking.  But I’m especially wary of important ideas that float around the media and the ether, without the slightest sense of historical understanding.Although Republicans initially praised the decision, I suspect that they will realize fairly soon that it is a bad decision not only for Democrats, but also for them.After the ruling, corporations will be free to spend as much as they like on advertisements that support or oppose candidates, and with little restriction.  With all the public’s hostility to big business, I can only wonder on what planet these guys are living.  The Court has given business a blank check to buy elections. Even Senator John McCain told reporters that he was troubled by the “extreme naivete” of some of the justices on the role of special-interest money in elections and decisions.
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