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Stevens brings hope


Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was in town the other night to refute the Court's awful Citizens United decision, to which Stevens formally dissented when it was made in 2010. Co-sponsored by the Clinton School of Public Service, Stevens' address was considered of some importance by CBS, NBC, the New York Times and other media outlets, less so by the local daily, which put its report on page 4B, after the obits. Billy Tauzin, a fixer for the drug companies, got better coverage when he spoke at the Clinton School a few years back. Tauzin is a Republican, and the Citizens United decision that Stevens criticizes was written by Republican justices, all of which may be coincidental. The decision also benefits Republican presidential candidates, including the one the daily has already endorsed. More coincidence, maybe.

Stevens brought good news for those who believe the American people should choose their nation's leaders, rather than deep-pocketed domestic and foreign corporations. Abraham Lincoln, a great Republican president, didn't call for "government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations." Quite the reverse. Nonetheless, a 5-4 Court majority in Citizens United removed long-standing limits on corporate political expenditures, allowing a flood of corporate money into the political process.

The Court majority said in Citizens United, astonishingly, that corporations are "people" (Mitt Romney agrees!) and money is "free speech." Some citizens thought the decision a joke at first, but the Antonin Scalia gang is not light-hearted. They showed that when they installed a president in 2000, wresting the right of selection from voters.

Stevens, 92, retired from the Court after writing the Citizens United dissent, which was joined by three other justices. The good news he delivered in Little Rock is that he believes the Citizens United decision will not stand, at least not in its present form. The growing evidence that foreign entities are trying to control American elections, just as President Obama predicted, is beginning to be noted by the justices, Stevens said, making reconsideration of the Citizens United decision likely. Turning over American elections to Chinese corporations is hard to defend. Too, justices still on the court who joined in Stevens' dissent are pressuring for reconsideration. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has written that experiences in state elections since Citizens United "make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." She urged the court to seize the opportunity "to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates' allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway."

The bad news from Stevens' speech is that reconsideration won't come before this year's elections. For now, we, the people, must defend ourselves against the corporations and their agents, the Mitt Romneys and Tim Griffins. Remember what Lincoln said. Fight on.

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