The Citizens United campaign finance decision by the Court’s conservative judicial activists is a dramatic assault on American democracy and a real threat to the prospects of an Obama reform presidency.
Tensions between the Court and the Administration rose even higher last week, when Chief Justice John Roberts criticized President Obama for expressing his disagreement with the Citizens United decision during the State of the Union address. Roberts called Obama’s comments "very troubling."
"What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections–drowning out the voices of average Americans," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs shot back.
And when those voices are drowned out, the ability to move economic, political, and social reform legislation becomes even more difficult, especially in the face of already too powerful corporate lobbies that keep campaign coffers flush with cash.
The Court and the Administration’s fundamentally different visions for the country are reminiscent–though far less dramatic at this stage–of the conflict between FDR and the Supreme Court as he worked to save the nation from its last great economic crisis. So much of the commentary pro- and con- Roberts’ challenge to Obama is on whether he’s a "crybaby ", or whether Supreme Court justices should attend the State of the Union. These arguments ignore the deeper, historic conflicts between the two branches of government, especially with reform Presidencies.
That makes a new book by author Jeff Shesol all the more important and timely. Supreme Power describes the conservative assault on FDR and the New Deal, and how right-wing hopes came to rest on an activist obstructionist Supreme Court–a narrow but determined majority that struck down the central pillars of Roosevelt’s reform agenda.
In an April 2002 speech to the Century Association, my father, William vanden Heuvel, Founder and Chair Emeritus of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, described just how far the Supreme Court reached in its effort to thwart Roosevelt.
"The anti-New Deal forces literally started thousands of legal actions to stop the fulfillment of programs which the President had initiated, that Congress had legislated, and the people in landslide elections had approved," he said.
The Supreme Court invalidated the Railroad Retirement Act, the National Recovery Act, and Mortgage Moratorium legislation. In 1936 it ruled the Agricultural Adjustment Act unconstitutional. It overturned legislation designed to bring order and safety to the desperate coal mining industry; the Municipal Bankruptcy Act created to save local governments across the country; and the New York State law establishing minimum wages, outlawing child labor and regulating the hours and labor conditions affecting women.