An oligarchy, Webster's dictionary tells us, is "a form of
government in which the ruling power belongs to a few persons." It's
a shame that the Republican majority on the Supreme Court doesn't
know the difference between an oligarchy and a democratic republic.
Yes, I said "the Republican majority," violating a nicety based
on the pretense that when people reach the high court, they forget
their party allegiance. We need to stop peddling this fiction.
On cases involving the right of Americans to vote and the ability
of a very small number of very rich people to exercise unlimited
influence on the political process, Chief Justice John Roberts and
his four allies always side with the wealthy, the powerful and the
forces that would advance the political party that put them on the
court. The ideological overreach that is wrecking our politics is
now also wrecking our jurisprudence.
The court's latest ruling in McCutcheon et al. v. Federal
Election Commission should not be seen in isolation. (The "et al.,"
by the way, refers to the Republican National Committee.) It is yet
another act of judicial usurpation by five justices who treat the
elected branches of our government with contempt, and precedent as
meaningless. If Congress tries to contain the power of the rich, the
Roberts court will slap it in the face. And if Congress tries to
guarantee the voting rights of minorities, the Roberts court will
slap it in the face again.
Notice how these actions work in tandem to make the wealthy more
powerful and those who have suffered oppression and discrimination
less powerful. You don't need much imagination to see who benefits
from what the court is doing.
Justice Roberts' McCutcheon ruling obliterates long-standing
rules that limit the aggregate amounts of money the super-rich can
contribute to various political candidates and committees in any one
election cycle. In 2012, individuals could give no more than a total
of $70,800 to all political committees and no more than $46,200 to
The rule is based on a political reality Justice Roberts sweeps
aside with faux naivete: Access and power come not just from
relationships with individual members of Congress but from strong
links to party leaders and party structures. Someone who helps a
party keep its majority by contributing to 200 or 300 candidates and
Lord knows how many political committees will have a lot more power
than you will if you make a $25 contribution in a congressional