Who would have thought a house party in Boca could upend the political universe? The American people were taken aback last week to learn that almost half of them lack "personal responsibility" and are incapable of taking "care of their lives." A great many of us apparently spend our days draining the very lifeblood of the nation through our indolent ways. Who knew?!
Although many observers seemed surprised to hear what extremely rich people say to other extremely rich people when they think no one is listening, none of the ideas expressed at the now-infamous Mitt Romney fundraiser are new. It's a storyline that has become quite familiar in recent years: There are some people of wealth who hold in contempt those who do not share their level of success. No amount of privilege seems to be enough for them. No stone is ever left unturned in their effort to game the political system and massage the tax code to their benefit, while simultaneously complaining that unemployed people trying to feed their kids with food stamps don't do enough to contribute to society.
But this dynamic doesn't just play out in political campaigns or in public policy debates. The endless search for additional protections and preferences for the wealthiest Americans and big corporations extends to the courts, as well. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the narrowly divided Supreme Court, which in decision after decision has steadily whittled away at the rights and power of everyday people and enhanced the rights and power of big-business interests.
This "One Percent Court," with its razor-thin, but highly determined, pro-big-business majority, is as much of a part of the broader story of class conflict playing out in American society as a speech at a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser for corporate moguls.
This disturbing tale of the Court's accelerating role in building a legal firewall around corporate interests is told in Alliance for Justice's new short film, Unequal Justice: The Relentless Rise of the 1% Court, which was released today.
Narrated by The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel, the film looks at three cases that are emblematic of how the One Percent Court has turned its back on everyday Americans: Wal-Mart v. Dukes, Pliva v. Mensing, and the notorious Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Using the personal stories of people whose lives have been devastated by the outcomes of these cases, the film demonstrates that the system is being rigged to benefit precisely the same kind of people who attended the noxious Florida fundraiser. Access to jury trials for everyday Americans has been curtailed. Rules have been rewritten to make it harder for everyday people to band together to fight widespread corporate misbehavior. And a torrent of corporate money has been unleashed into a political system already dominated by the powerful.
While some rail about the supposed lack of "personal responsibility" of people whose incomes are too low to pay income taxes, this Court goes out of its way in cases like Pliva, and Wal-Mart, to make sure that corporate responsibility is a thing of the past. Then, at the same time, it enhances the ability of big-business interests to dominate the political debate, and thus public policy, through decisions like Citizens United and its lower-court progeny such as Speechnow.org v. FEC.
Whether one thinks the Roberts Court's pro-corporate decisions are the result of genuinely held legal ideology or a Republican-tinged political orientation, the fact remains that after a dogged forty-year effort by the conservative movement to capture the courts, a host of hard-won legal principles have now been eroded and the promise of equal justice has often devolved into a hard reality of unequal justice. (This week's remarkable special issue of The Nation, entitled "The 1 Percent Court," tells this story in detail.)
The distasteful fundraiser in Florida was a window into a worldview that shocked many people. But we don't need hidden-camera videos to reveal a philosophy devoted to protection for the powerful and contempt for everyday people. It will be on plain view for all to see starting today when the 1 Percent Court comes back into session. The difference, of course, is that unlike a candidate who wants to keep his unpalatable beliefs hidden behind closed doors, there are five like-minded Supreme Court justices who are more than happy to put theirs in writing.
Click here to watch the short documentary Unequal Justice: The Relentless Rise of the 1% Court and to get additional information about corporate bias in the Supreme Court.
Nan Aron's essay on "The Way Forward" in The Nation is available here.