A narrow majority on the Supreme Court reads the Constitution as if the calendar had not turned since 1791.
According to Justice Antonin Scalia, the court’s duty is to “begin with the text, and to give that text the meaning that it bore when it was adopted by the people.”
The trouble — and yes, the danger — in this “originalism” is that it ignores what could not be foreseen when the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were being written and ratified more than 200 years ago.
War was waged with muzzle-loading muskets. The news and political broadsheets were printed tediously on hand-cranked presses with hand-set type, one page a time.
Physicians knew nothing of microorganisms or antisepsis and tried to cure the sick by draining their blood. Nothing moved faster than a horse could run or the wind could blow.
No one — not even Ben Franklin — foresaw steam power, let alone electrical generation and the instant, worldwide mass communications we take for granted today.
Could the architects of our nation see what has happened since, they would doubtlessly be horrified by what has become of the government they devised with great care.
It was not meant to be a democracy — the word doesn’t appear in the Constitution — but a republic representing the citizens of the states.
It did not cross their minds that citizens of one state would ever meddle in the elections of another, or that the states would allow it.
Nor did they anticipate that unimaginable wealth, measured in billions of dollars, would be spent in doing so.
In many ways, the Congress no longer represents the people of the respective states and districts. It represents national and even trans-national lobbies that have enough money to elect or defeat them. The evidence is in the tax code — a “disgrace to the human race,” as Jimmy Carter once put it.
One great oversight on the founders’ part was to fail to prohibit extraneous influence in local elections. But how could they forbid what they could not foresee?
As the Tampa Bay Times reported recently, Americans for Prosperity — a front for the Oklahoma petrochemical billionaires David and Charles Koch — is financing multimedia attacks on three Republican Florida state senators who haven’t been conservative enough to suit the Koch bullies.
Why? The three — Charlie Dean of Inverness, Nancy Detert of Venice and Greg Evers of Baker — aren’t vulnerable. Dean won’t even be on the 2014 ballot and will be term-limited in 2016.
The Koch machine knows that. Its real purpose is to intimidate other Republican politicians into toeing the Koch line every time, everywhere. It’s the technique favored by other big-foot lobbies — among them Grover Norquist and his cynically misnamed “Americans for Tax Reform.”
The interstate meddling of Americans for Prosperity — which ought to be called Americans for Plutocracy — is largely secret, shielded by foolish laws and court rulings that classify such political machines as “social welfare organizations.”
Thanks, however, to a strict reporting law in Colorado, the Center for Public Integrity discovered that Americans for Prosperity spent $122 million trying to defeat President Obama and Congressional Democrats last year. In 2010, its money was instrumental in turning North Carolina, where I live, from a progressive state into one that’s profoundly reactionary.
In a sane world, it would be as criminal for the Kochs to buy an election in North Carolina or Florida as it would be for them to fly in on election day to cast a vote.
We the people are losing control of our country because the court takes the Constitution to be a straitjacket rather than a framework.
In 1976, it opened the door to unlimited “independent” expenditures on the naive rationalization that they aren’t potentially corrupting.
In 2010, it applied this fiction to corporations as if they were people.
This term, it’s likely to discard the remaining limits on direct contributions to federal candidates.
This trend is tantamount to a death sentence for the American Republic.
To reprieve ourselves, we need to amend the Constitution to instruct the court that corporations are not people, that money is not speech, and that there must be restrictions on campaign spending.
Otherwise, the end is certain. Only the date is not.