With all the discussion at Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearing of the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case, many Americans are probably in need of an easy primer to understand the decision, which holds that corporations, like individual citizens, can make unlimited political contributions. According to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the top Republican on the Judiciary committee, it’s just like the time the Supreme Court desegregated public schools!
Last night, elaborating on his criticisms of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Sessions made the unusual comparison of Citizens United v. FEC to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
“[Marshall] was right on Brown v. Board of Education. It’s akin in my view to the Citizen’s United case. The court sat down and we went back to first principles—What does the Constitution say? Everybody should be equal protection of the laws,” Sessions told me after a Senate vote last night.
“Is it treating people equally to say you can go to this school because of the color of your skin and you can’t?” Sessions asked rhetorically. “We’ve now honestly concluded and fairly concluded that it violates the equal protection clause.”
How is that like Citizens United? “I think this Court, when they said ‘Wait a minute! If you’re talking about a precedent that says the government can deny the right to publish pamphlets, then we’ve got get rid of this one outlier case Austin — 100 years of precedent — and go back to what the Constitution [says].’ I don’t think that’s activism.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the prohibition on direct corporate expenditures to campaigns is exactly like forcing African-Americans to endure segregation, if you are Senator Jeff Sessions.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.