Outgoing Senator Arlen Specter used his farewell speech on Tuesday to attack the Supreme Court’s two newest conservative members, suggesting they had “eroded” the separation of powers.
“The Next Congress should try to stop the Supreme Court from further eroding the constitutional mandate of separation of powers,” the Republican-turned-Democrat said.
“The recent decision in Citizens United is illustrative. Ignoring a massive congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony given under oath and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising, thus effectively undermining the basic democratic principle of the power of one person, one vote.”
In January of 2010, the Supreme Court struck down the McCain-Feingold campaign finance act in its ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that corporate funding of political candidates cannot be limited under the First Amendment.
Less than a year after the controversial Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court is expected to rule against Arizona’s Clean Elections Act, a law that seeks to moderate election spending by providing subsidies to candidates who face big-spending opponents.
Recent studies have found that Supreme Court rulings under Chief Justice Roberts have favored businesses much more often than previous courts.
“Congress’s response is necessarily limited in recognition of the importance of judicial independence as the foundation of the rule of law, but Congress could at least require televising the Court proceedings to provide some transparency to inform the public about what the Court is doing since it has the final word on the cutting issues of the day,” Sen. Specter added. “Brandeis was right when he said that sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
In November, Justice Alito attended a fundraising event for the right-wing magazine American Spectator.
In 2009, Justice Alito also headlined a fundraising dinner for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which funded the conservative journalist James O’Keefe and Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell. Alito is reported to have helped the institute raise $70,000.
According to the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, a justice should not “solicit funds for, pay an assessment to, or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate, or attend or purchase a ticket for a dinner or other event sponsored by a political organization or candidate.”
Sen. Specter voted in favor of both Justice Alito and Justice Roberts during their confirmation hearings. Both Justices were nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States by President George W. Bush.
“The Court does follow the election returns, and the Court does judicially notice societal values as expressed by public opinion,” Sen. Specter continued. “Polls show that 85 percent of the American people favor televising the Court when told that a citizen can only attend an oral argument for 3 minutes in a chamber holding only 300 people. Great Britain, Canada, and State supreme courts permit television.”
“Congress has the authority to legislate on this subject, just as Congress decides other administrative matters such as what cases the Court must hear, time limits for decisions, number of Justices, the day the Court convenes, and the number required for a quorum. While television cannot provide a definitive answer, it could be significant and may be the most that can be done consistent with life tenure and judicial independence.”
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