Judicial activism in the supreme court

Tom Bonan, Writer

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court overturned another major campaign finance law, one that may set precedence for remaining laws that may be replaced or repealed entirely.

In this particular case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), the court removed a cap that restricted individuals to donate upwards of $123,000 per election cycle. Though individuals can still only donate $5,200 per candidate per election cycle, they can now donate money to as many candidates as they want. Though this change may not seem very dramatic, this court ruling has huge implications for future campaigns and cases.

Specifically, the language of Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion opens up a lot of possibilities for future courts to strike down similar laws playing into the larger narrative of the legacy of his court. Roberts, through cases like Citizen’s United v. FEC and McCutcheon, has focused on the issue of campaign finance, constantly voting in favor of deregulation and what has essentially equated money with speech.

In this particular case, the majority set out to define the limits of the regulatory power of the government in this area, stating the government has the responsibility of stopping “quid pro quo” corruption–essentially only outright extortion. This case has set precedent for future cases on donation restrictions, essentially paving the way for future cases against the limitation of money that can be donated during federal, state, and local elections.

One has to wonder about the ramifications of these decisions and the legacy of Roberts’ term as Chief Justice (which may extend well into the 21st century given that he just turned 59 this year).

High-profile court cases in the Roberts Court have become a regular occurrence, and the conservative wing of the court has consistently presented radical, and often vaguely precedented, opinions on a variety of wide-reaching cases. Roberts, in Citizens United, called for a second hearing of arguments, dramatically expanding the scope of the case from a minor dispute over what constituted a political advertisement into a case that attempted to revise the definition of speech. The Court is no longer just interpreting laws; they are in effect creating new laws that can only be repealed through another court case or through a Constitutional amendment.

The Supreme Court of the United States is a unique branch of our government for this reason: it does not have the power to enforce the decisions it makes since its power is derived from the prestige of the institution and the public’s willingness to view the Court’s decisions as legitimate. Increasingly divided, landmark cases like Bush v. Gore, Citizens United, and now McCutcheon show that the Court has now shifted into a disconcertingly political institution. And with recent public outrage over the ineptitude of our legislature, one has to wonder how much patience will remain for the court.

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