Transcript: Thom Hartmann: The Big Picture: The story of the 5 Kings who rule America. 28 June '11
Yesterday - Senator Bernie Sanders took to the floor of the Senate to weigh in on the debt limit negotiations and send a message to President Obama - take a look:
In my view, the President of the United States needs to stand with the vast majority of the American people and say no to the Republican leadership and make it clear that enough is enough...
Mr. President, Now is the time to say to the millionaires and the billionaires in this country and to the largest corporations who in many ways have never had it so good that they must participate in deficit reduction, that there must be shared sacrifice.
We need shared sacrifice - so put repealing the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires on the table in the debt limit negotiations - THAT was Senator Sanders' message.
Unfortunately - President Obama didn't get the message.
The White House announced yesterday that it's taken repealing the Bush tax cuts for the rich off the table - meaning the only stuff that's really still left on the table are closing a few loopholes and massive spending cuts that screw over working families in America.
So why is it that the President of the United States - a man who's been outspoken about his disgust for irresponsible tax cuts for the rich - why is it that he refuses to put his money where his mouth is and make some demands just like the Republicans?
Isn't he the leader of the free world - the most powerful man in America?
Well, actually, no - he's not.
Barack Obama may be the democratically-elected President of the United States - but he's not a king - and today's America is ruled by kings - five of them to be exact. And here they are... the five right-wing Justices on the Supreme Court - the black-robed kings that rule America.
Chief Justice John Roberts - Justice Antonin Scalia - Justice Anthony Kennedy - Justice Clarence Thomas - and Justice Samuel Alito...
These five men - none of whom were elected by the people - have transformed our nation in a profound way - from a constitutionally limited democratic republic that our founding fathers created...into a corporatocracy.
With the Citizens United ruling last year - as well as a slew of other pro-corporate rulings that have become a norm for the Roberts' court - the Supreme Court has ruled that money is a form of speech - and thus can't be restricted in our elections.
So rich people and corporations - those with the most money - can now speak the loudest in our democracy.
Now here's what's really important. This was not a law debated and passed in ANY Congress - it wasn't signed by ANY President - it was the decision of 5 members of the Supreme Court who are unaccountable to the American people - and that's it.
In fact - previous Congresses and previous Presidents have passed laws doing just the opposite - forbidding corporations from meddling in our politics - like the Tillman Act passed in in 1907 that explicitly says:
It shall be unlawful for...any corporation...to make a money contribution in connection with any election to any political office.
That's pretty clear - but not clear enough for the Kings on the high court, who shredded the Tillman Act last year and opened the floodgates holding back corporate cash from our elections.
That's why President Obama took the Bush tax cuts off the table yesterday in debt-limit negotiations.
Because he knows that in this newly powerful corporatocracy created by the Supreme Court - that the slightest offense against the super wealthy will lead to his demise as President - political demise.
All it takes is one billionaire hedge fund manager - or two billionaire brother oil barons - mad that he raised their taxes - to airdrop $500 million - maybe a week's worth of their income - to drop that into the 2012 elections - and basically buy the White House for whoever they want. And the same is true of the Senate and the House.
The President doesn't have true power nowadays - nor does any member of Congress... it's actually all in the Supreme Court - and five justices who are wholly owned by corporate interests.
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States - feared this exact thing happening.
But in the second year of Jefferson's presidency, in the fourteenth year of our constitutional nationhood, the Supreme Court took for itself a power that is not granted to it in the Constitution.
Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the Supreme Court can strike down laws - like Campaign Finance Laws - passed by Congress and signed by the President.
In fact, the year before the Constitution was ratified, in 1788, Alexander Hamilton reassured Americans that he and the others who wrote the Constitution NEVER intended that the Court would have such power.
You can read it yourself in Federalist 81, June 28 - this day - 1788 - 223 years ago today, Alexander Hamilton wrote:
The power of construing the laws according to the spirit of the Constitution, will enable that court to mould them into whatever shape it may think proper; especially as its decisions will not be in any manner subject to the revision or correction of the legislative body. This is as unprecedented as it is dangerous.
He was saying that, by the way, in the context of this is the argument that is being made, that the court would have that power, and we're not giving it that power, as you read in Federalist Number 81.
The Court had never done that - they had never molded or struck down a law passed by Congress - until 1803.
In that dreadful year, our nation's fourth Chief Justice - John Marshall - ruled in the 1803 Marbury versus Madison case that the Supreme Court could unilaterally strike down laws passed by both chambers of the legislature and signed by the President.
This power of the Supreme Court to rewrite the laws of the land is today known as "judicial review" - and, as I said, it's nowhere in the Constitution.
When the Court did it in 1803, then-President Thomas Jefferson was horrified.
He wrote a letter to the wife of John Adams saying:
The opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional, and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action, but for the legislature and executive also, in their spheres, would make the judiciary a despotic branch.
In another letter to his old friend Spencer Roan, the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, Patrick Henry's nephew, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
If this decision be sound, then indeed is our Constitution a complete [suicide pact]...
If this opinion be sound, then indeed is our Constitution a complete [suicide pact]. For ... the Constitution on this hypothesis is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.
And today the Roberts court has twisted and shaped our waxy constitution into a corporate charter for rich CEOs to run amok in our electoral politics.
Had Jefferson known in 1803 just how far the Supreme Court would go in enshrining corporate power in America, he likely would have led a revolt against the court himself. But in fact, for the next 30 years, or actually a little more than 30 years, when John Marshall was the chief justice, the court never again struck down a law.
So the issue of the court having too much power lost its steam. But now it's here in spades. The greatest threat facing America today is too much power in the Supreme Court, an institution that was supposed to be the third of 3 co-equal branches of government, but has turned itself into a monarchy.
Past presidents have tried to solve this problem, be it Jefferson, or more recently Franklin Roosevelt, when in 1937 he tried to increase the size of the court so he could add some progressive justices to counter the power of the 5 right wing justices who were blocking the New Deal.
Nowhere in the constitution does it say how many justices have to be on the court. But Jefferson failed, Franklin Roosevelt failed, and the Supreme Court's powers are still unchecked. As Jefferson noted back in 1820,
When the legislative or executive functionaries act unconstitutionally, they are responsible to the people in their elective capacity. The exemption of the judges from that is quite dangerous enough. I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves.
America does not belong to Kings - she belongs to the people.
It's time for Congress and our President to step up and put the Supreme Court back on equal footing with the rest, with the other 2 branches of government.
They need to pass a law ending Judicial Review - take that power away from the Supreme Court - and restore the vision that our founding fathers had of America - a nation where 5 unelected guys in black robes couldn't make or kill the laws of the land.
That's The Big Picture.