Last week I had the privilege of testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee about President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. Wth the Court split four-to-four on so many critical issues, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
But even beyond issues, what’s at stake with this nomination is the very shape of our democracy: the way we make decisions about everything from who gets health care to whether working families will live in poverty—and whose voices are heard in that process.
That’s why I asked the Committee to scrutinize Judge Gorsuch’s views and record on the role of money in politics. These render him unfit for a lifetime seat on our nation’s highest court.
Because all is not well in our body politic. Most voters are convinced that their government isn’t working for them. This makes sense when less than 1 percent of the population provides the vast majority of the political donations that determine who runs for office, who wins elections, and what issues get attention from elected officials.
Consider that the average U.S. senator raised $3,300 every single day for six years to win his (and I mean his) seat. Most of that money came from $1,000+ donors, not average constituents. As a result, legislators listen much more closely to those elite donors than they do to ordinary voters.
The problem, of course, is that elite donors have different policy priorities than the majority of Americans, even within their own parties. Our public policies are skewed towards the wealthy, and away from working families, women, and people of color, who remain massively underrepresented among top donors and in the halls of power. It’s no wonder regular citizens feel unheard and unserved by their government.
Who enabled all of this big money to pour into our political system? It was the Supreme Court, which repeatedly struck down democratically enacted safeguards. The latest Demos report shows that Court rulings were responsible for nearly half of all the campaign spending in 2016.
Everything we know about Judge Gorsuch tells us he would take us further down this dangerous path. In two directly relevant cases, he voted to expand First Amendment rights for corporations, and went out of his way to signal openness to applying the harshest possible standard of review to campaign contribution limits—giving financial contributions a level of protection the Supreme Court has not always afforded even our precious right to vote.
Judge Gorsuch had the opportunity to refute this presumption at his hearing this week. He could have distanced himself from Citizens United, one of the most unpopular court cases in American history—but he did no such thing.
I closed my testimony by reminding the senators that their constituents want them to stand up to big money, and that voting to reject Judge Gorsuch is one of the best chances they’ll ever have to do so. Given that 91 percent of President Trump’s own voters thought it was important he appoint someone to the Supreme Court who is open to limits on big money, I was on pretty firm ground.
The ongoing investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election raises stark questions about whether now is the time to confirm any lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. But however that ninth seat gets filled, we need a justice who understands that in a true democracy, the strength of our voices cannot depend upon the size of our wallets. That’s not Neil Gorsuch.