Sen Franken:Supreme Court Caving To Corporations

Uploaded by UpTakeVideo on 28.06.2010

Every Senator who has spoken before me has sworn to "support and defend the Constitution
of the United States." And so have I. There are few things that we do that are more important
to fulfilling that oath than making sure that the Justices of the United States Supreme
Court are brilliant, humane, and just individuals. _ _But these hearings are also a learning
experience for Minnesotans and all Americans watching at home. Before I joined the Senate,
I watched at least part of every Supreme Court confirmation hearing that was televised. And
I think part of my job here is to continue that learning experience for the American
people. _ _Now, last year, I used my time during these hearings to highlight what I
think is one of the most serious threats to our Constitution and to the rights it guarantees
the American people: the activism of the Roberts Court. _ _I noted that for years, conservatives
running for the Senate have made it almost an article of faith that they won't vote for
activist judges who make law from the bench. And when asked to name a model justice, they
would often cite Justice Thomas, who I noted has voted to overturn more federal laws than
Justices Stevens and Breyer combined. In recent cycles, they would name Chief Justice Roberts.
__Well, I think we established very convincingly during the Sotomayor hearings that there is
such a thing as judicial activism. There is such a thing as legislating from the bench.
_ _And it is practiced repeatedly by the Roberts Court, where it has cut in only one direction:
in favor of powerful corporate interests, and against the rights of individual Americans.
_ _In the next few days, I want to continue this conversation. Because I think things
have only gotten worse._ _And so I want to say one thing to the Minnesotans watching
at home: With few exceptions, whether you're a worker, a pensioner, a small business owner,
a woman, a voter, or a person who drinks water, your rights are harder to defend today than
they were five years ago. _ _Our state has been victim to the third-largest Ponzi scheme
in history. _ _And yet in 2008, in a case called Stoneridge, the Roberts Court made
it harder for investors to get their money back from the people that defrauded them._The
Twin Cities have more older workers per capita than almost any other city in the nation.
_ _And yet in 2009, in a case called Gross, the Roberts Court made it easier for corporations
to fire older Americans and get away with it. _ _Minnesota has more wetlands than all
but three states. _ _And yet in a case called Rapanos, the Court cut countless streams and
wetlands out of the Clean Water Act-even though they'd been covered for up to 30 years._ _Our
state has banned all corporate spending on elections since 1988. _ _And yet in January,
in Citizens United, the Roberts Court nullified our laws and turned back a century of federal
law by allowing corporations to spend as much money as they want, whenever they want, in
our elections. _Not just federal elections. Duluth elections. Bemidji elections. Minnesota
elections._ _There is a pattern here. Each of these decisions was won with five votes.
And in each of these decisions, that bare majority used its power to help big business._
_There's another pattern here. In each of these decisions, in every one, Justice John
Paul Stevens led the dissent. _ _Now Justice Stevens is no firebrand liberal. He was appointed
to the Seventh Circuit by Richard Nixon. And he was elevated to the Supreme Court by Gerald
Ford. By all accounts, he was considered a moderate._ _And yet he didn't hesitate to
tell corporations that they aren't a part of "'We the People,' by whom and for whom
our Constitution was established." And he didn't flinch when he told a President that
"the Executive is bound to comply with the rule of law." _ _General Kagan, you've got
big shoes to fill. _ _But before I turn it over to you, General Kagan, I want to talk
a bit more about one of the decisions I mentioned. I want to talk more about Citizens United.
_ _Now, you've heard a lot about this decision already today, but I want to come at it from
a slightly different angle. _There is no doubt: the Roberts Court's disregard for a century
of federal law-and decades of the Supreme Court's own rulings-is wrong. It's shocking.
And it's torn a gaping hole in our election laws. _ _So of course I'm worried about how
Citizens United is going to change our elections. _ _But I am more worried about how this decision
is going to affect our communities-and our ability to run those communities without a
permission slip from big business. _ _Let me give you two examples of what I am talking
about. _ _In the early 1960s, car companies knew that they could avoid a large number
of fatalities just by installing seat belts in every vehicle. But they didn't want to.
They said "safety doesn't sell."_ _But Congress didn't listen to the car companies. And so
in 1966, Congress passed a law requiring that all passenger cars have seatbelts._ _Since
then, the fatality rate from car accidents has dropped 71 percent. _ _Here's another
story. Around the same time that we passed the seatbelt law, people started to realize
that the leaded gasoline that cars ran on was poisoning our air. But oil companies didn't
want to take the lead out of gasoline. Because altering their refineries was going to be,
in the words of the Wall Street Journal, a "multi-billion dollar headache." _ _But in
1970, Congress passed the Clean Air Act anyway. And thanks in part to that law, by 1995, the
percentage of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood had dropped by 84%._
_Along with the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Motor Vehicle
Safety Act are three of the pillars of modern consumer safety and environmental laws._ _But
here's something else they have in common. They were all passed around 60 days before
an election._ _Do you think those laws would have stood a chance if Standard Oil and GM
could have spent millions of dollars advertising against vulnerable congressmen, by name, in
the last months before their elections?_ _I don't._ _So here's my point, General Kagan:
Citizens United isn't just about election law. It isn't just about campaign finance.
_ _It's about seat belts. It's about clean air and clean water. It's about energy policy
and the rights of workers and investors. It's about health care. It's about our ability
to pass laws that protect the American people even if it hurts the corporate bottom line.
_ _As Justice Stevens said, it's about our "need to prevent corporations from undermining
self-government."_ _But I think that you get that. Maybe more than anyone else in this
room._ _General Kagan, you've shown remarkable skill as a lawyer for our government, and
remarkable candor as one of its critics-say, for example, of Supreme Court confirmation
hearings. I like that. _ _I want to see that legal skill in action. And I want to see if
you might continue the work of Justice Stevens.