Impeach John Roberts

The Chief Justice lied
By EDITORIAL  |  February 8, 2010

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It is time for an enterprising and courageous member of the US House of Representatives to file articles of impeachment against the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts. The charge: lying under oath.

More than four years ago, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee prior to the full Senate vote that approved his appointment, Roberts said: "Like most people, I resist labels. I have told people, when pressed, that I prefer to be known as a modest judge. And, to me, that means . . . an appreciation that the role of the judge is limited; the judge is to decide cases before them; they're not to legislate; they're not to execute the law."

In plain English, Roberts under oath declared himself to be a judicial minimalist, a proponent of judicial restraint, someone who holds that legislators — not judges — make the law. He all but said, "I am not now, nor have I ever been, a judicial activist."

And yet there was nothing modest or minimalist or restrained about Roberts's role in the recent Supreme Court ruling that held that corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money to buy as much political advertising as they want in any political election they choose.

In deciding that case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Roberts joined his three right-wing brethren, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, and sometimes-moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy (who wrote the opinion), to overturn two federal precedents and strike down scores of national and related state laws, nuking 103 years of campaign-finance reform in the process.

This gang of five — all, not surprisingly, Republican appointees — has finally made the nation safe for a government of corporations, by corporations, for corporations.

The perversity of it all is that Roberts and his henchmen wrapped themselves in the mantle of free speech in delivering their ruling, which could well prove to be the final nail in the coffin of our diseased democracy.

Building on muddle-headed Supreme Court decisions going back to the early 19th century that declare corporations have many of the same rights as people, Roberts and his co-conspirators found that it would be gosh-darn unfair to deny corporations the same right to electioneer as is enjoyed by Jane and Joe Doe.

Never mind that corporations are not required to sit on juries. Overlook that they cannot vote. Forget that they cannot be called upon to shed blood in military service. Disregard that there is no corporate death tax, because corporations — unlike actual people — can live forever.

The Roberts court affirmed that corporations — even if controlled by foreign shareholders — have the same free-speech rights as American citizens. They just happen to have big bank accounts. Big deal.

Well, it is a big deal. In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens warned of the possible corrosive effect of unregulated corporate spending. President Barack Obama was blunter. The decision, he said, was "devastating," striking "at the heart of our democracy."

Corporations are only pools of money dedicated to making more money. They are owned by shareholders. If they are "people," then corporations are by that same line of reasoning slaves. Perhaps someone should remind the Roberts majority that the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery. Does that make the very existence of corporations — never once mentioned in the constitution — unconstitutional?

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