Supreme Court’s sorry record on elections is bad news for 2024

The famed Chicago columnist Finley Peter Dunne, better known as “Mr. Dooley,” once said to his pal Hennissy, in Chicago Irish dialect, that “No matter whither th’ Constitution follows th’ flag or not, th’ Supreme Court follows th’ election returns.”

Well, this Supreme Court, and specifically the Republican majority that has dominated it for the last half-century, doesn’t follow the election returns. It—pardon the expression—screws up U.S. election returns. And it’s not done yet.

Who benefits? The ultra-rich and the criminal capitalist class. Who suffers? Workers, women, voters of color, the young, the old, and the rest of us.

Starting with Buckley vs Valeo in 1976, the justices have systematically dismantled all protections against corrupt corporate influence on elections, eliminated voting rights, tossed out limits on and disclosure of campaign contributions and spending, and, most recently, legalized corruption.

They even picked a president. Remember Bush vs Gore in 2000? The court stopped the vote count in Florida, with Republican George W. Bush in the lead. Bush’s corporate backers wanted that.

The Republican-named justices cloak some of their rulings in the garb of freedom of speech, invoking the Constitution’s First Amendment. But—and this is important for workers—free speech for whom?

Because when the justices turn the corporate treasuries loose on political campaigns, when they eliminate limits on individual contributions and campaign self-funders when they let shady corporate donors hide behind SuperPACs and supposed “non-profit” organizations, when they bar common methods of absentee voting, when they reject partisan redistricting plans unless they’re racially motivated, and on and on and on, guess who gets frozen out?

Let’s start with Buckley, and you’ll see what we’re talking about:

That 1976 decision said limits on election spending are unconstitutional. GOP Chief Justice Warren Burger’s court ruled campaign spending limits “contravene free speech because a restriction on spending for political communication necessarily reduces the quantity of expression.”

Yes, it does, but only for those who don’t have the dollars to spend…like you and me. We, not the big givers and spenders, get no say. The money men, and they’re almost all white men, do.

Even one justice who went along, Democratic-named Byron “Whizzer” White, recognized the danger. White warned his colleagues the post-Watergate Congress “legitimately recognized unlimited election spending as a mortal danger against which effective preventive and curative steps must be taken.” But for White, and the others, supposed “freedom of speech” trumped all.

Fast forward 24 years, to Bush vs Gore. Now, they could very well do it a second time in the 2024 election.

Guess who their pick will be. Regardless of how they rule, the jurists have legitimized the delay-delay-delay tactics of Republican nominee Donald Trump. That convicted felon, womanizer, and white supremacist demands unlimited immunity from federal prosecution for any crime, in and out of the White House he once inhabited, forever.

Just the delay alone—we’ll repeat that, just the delay alone – lets Trump run again, without fear of prosecution. If he wins, he’ll institute his “dictatorship on day one” vow. Nobody believes he’d stop then. First, Trump would shut down federal prosecutions he faces. Then he’d pardon his Capitol invaders.

But back to the Supreme Court and what it’s let loose upon us.

First, 14 years ago, came Citizens United. That unleashed corporate treasuries, with no limits and no accountability, again in the name of free speech. A right-wing operative, seeking to finance an anti-Hillary Clinton borderline slander, brought the case because his film could be deemed an illegal corporate contribution. It cost too much for the limits. Voila! No more limits.

Justice John Paul Stevens, leading the dissenters, called Citizens United “a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government.” The Republican court majority didn’t listen.

Two years later, the justices turned individual campaign donors loose, in a case involving a GOP megadonor from Alabama. In legal briefs, the party gleefully backed him—and won. The U.S. people lost.

Then the court gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, especially its enforcement in states, cities, and elsewhere with histories of discrimination. Who got hurt? Women, students, people of color, workers, the poor, and the old.

How fast did we lose rights? The Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said after the justices issued that Holder decision, the gerrymandered GOP-run North Carolina legislature took only “45 minutes” to disenfranchise thousands of voters in his home state.

Speaking of gerrymandering, the Republican court majority ignores it in most cases. “It’s a political question,” they declare. Two exceptions:

  • (a) If it’s based on race, not politics, and
  • (b) If it’s literally shoved in the justices’ faces. That happened in Alabama and Louisiana, but not—the justices said—in the two Carolinas.

Pre-Holder, the Voting Rights Act would have forced the feds to toss all gerrymandering, including both Carolinas and Florida and Texas and Georgia and…and….and…and. Not now.

Not content with letting politicians choose their voters, the justices also make it harder for voters to vote. One ruling rejected common methods of collecting absentee ballots, in a case from Arizona.

And on June 26, they dealt more carnage to our elections. The court majority legalized post-election bribery, though the Republican justices don’t call it that. They call such payments “gratuities.”

Bribes are illegal, the justices said. In most cases, gratuities aren’t, Trump-named Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote. When they are, Kavanaugh called them “two separate crimes” with “two different sets of elements.” The five other Republican-named justices agreed.

Even Trump knows there’s no difference. “When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do,” he said of politicians nine years ago.

That’s why Trump, now a politician, promised a quid pro quo of lower taxes and less regulation to oil barons when he met them at Mar-a-Lago in May—if they gave his campaign a billion bucks.

The other June ruling, in a small win for sanity, says social media has editorial control over its content. The right wanted to dictate what you see and hear. It lost the case on technical grounds.

Of course, the right and the GOP now manipulate social media to toe their line, and shut workers and others out. When they brought the case, they were screaming about corporate censorship via algorithms and government pressure through complaints. You don’t hear them screaming now, not when right-wing multibillionaire Elon Musk imposes his will on Twitter/X.

Trump isn’t on the High Court. Yet its justices, including the three he named, by their delays, impose the possibility of a Trump dictatorship, and no more free and fair elections, upon all of us.

Does anybody seriously doubt that after all his disproven cries of fraud in 2020 and others as far back as 2016, Trump won’t scream fraud again this year?

And if voters elect him, he’ll ensure there’s no future fraud against him. He – and his Trumpites in lower-level offices, from election boards to state courts to governors – will rig the vote. For Trump. Thank you, U.S. Supreme Court.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the views of its author.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.