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Letter: Corporate meddling in elections

During the confirmation hearings of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, I listened closely to their answers because I was suspicious due to their background as corporate lawyers. I was reassured since they testified under oath that they believed in following precedent: that as "minimalists" they would only look for the narrowest interpretation of a case. They disapproved of activist judges because law was to be made by legislators. One even testified that judges were merely umpires calling balls and strikes.

They lied. Citizens United -- the case that put all of our elections up for sale to the highest corporate bidder -- proves the falsity of their testimony.

In an address to Congress in 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt called for the prohibition of corporate money in all elections. He further asked for the ban of corporate money in legislative issues. Congress took up the challenge and the Tillman Act was passed in 1907. In the following years various states also passed laws banning corporate money in order to protect the integrity of elections, but the case of Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce went before the Supreme Court in 1989. The Court ruled in a 6-3 vote that corporate money should be banned. (Scalia and Kennedy dissented.)

The last legislative attempt to restrain undue special interests in politics was the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 which was signed by President George W. Bush. This act dealt with "soft" money and also restricted the timing of ads.

Until January, campaign financing reform had passed two of the tests set forth in the confirmation hearings -- Congress had made the law and courts had upheld it, thereby setting the precedents.

Minimalists? The majority's decision went far beyond the pleadings of Citizens United. The Roberts court took the unusual step of sending the case back and as Justice Stevens said in his dissent, "five Justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law."

Five activist judges without legislation and against precedent awarded our elections to corporations.

Barbara M. Edwards