Next Monday, the Supreme Court will hear an important case on freedom of expression and association. Some powerful Democrats don’t want Judge Amy Coney Barrett involved.
The case involves a challenge to a California law that requires nonprofit educational organizations, known as 503 (c) (3) organizations, to disclose the names of their major donors to the state.
A conservative advocacy group called “Americans for Prosperity” is challenging the law in the Supreme Court. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against them and the Americans for Prosperity asked for an “en banc” review, that is, when a larger panel of judges considered a decision made by a panel of three judges. The Ninth Circuit denied the request, but five circuit judges wrote a dissent.
The dissenting judges noted: “Although the state is required to keep the names of private donors, the district court found the state’s promise of confidentiality to be illusory; the state’s database was vulnerable to hacking, and dozens of donor names were repeatedly made public. They also noted that the publication of donor names has led to serious harassment of donors and their families: “Supporters whose affiliation had already been disclosed have been subjected to harassment and abuse. Their names and addresses, and even the addresses of their children’s schools, have been put online with threats of violence. The companies of some donors have been boycotted. In one incident, a rally of the complainant’s supporters was stormed by attackers wielding knives and cutters, who demolished the rally tent as the complainant’s supporters struggled to avoid being trapped below .
Two powerful Democratic Senators, Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal, both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Democratic Congressman Hank Johnson, want Judge Coney Barrett to recuse herself, meaning she would not vote on the case. They argue that because Americans for Prosperity spent a lot arguing for her confirmation as a Supreme Court judge, it would create an appearance of improper influence if she were to participate in the case. In their letter to him, they wrote: “The statute, constitutional case law and common sense all seem to require your challenge.”
Their position is directly contrary to what the Supreme Court said about the impact of independent spending by wealthy groups. In Buckley v. Valeo, the court held that while large direct donations to candidates could create the appearance of undue influence, independent spending on behalf of a candidate for office would not. Additionally, Coney Barrett has never been a candidate for anything – she was a candidate who is unlikely to seek other employment for the rest of her life – so it is particularly unlikely that she will be seen as indebted to a wealthy group who supported his nomination. .
Basically, it will be a closed case with strong arguments on both sides. On the one hand, there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of money spent by the rich in trying to influence the political process. And while the Liberals, as well as the Conservatives, donate a large chunk of that money, there is a reasonable argument that the very rich have certain interests in common, regardless of their political affiliation. In addition, educational institutions do not have to disclose their donors and there is a lot of money spent by highly partisan advocacy groups under the guise of education and the rules that distinguish advocacy from education are few. applied. So there is a lot of money coming from anonymous and wealthy sources influencing American politics.
On the other hand, there is a strong tradition of anonymity in American political advocacy. The iconic federalist papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, but they were published under the name “Publius”.
And unfortunately, the arguments for anonymity only grow stronger. Threats against individuals, and even their families, based on ideological differences have become commonplace. The prospect of seeing her children’s schools’ addresses posted on the Internet with threats, as the dissenting judges in this case said, would make anyone think twice before making a donation to a cause they are in. believes.
Recusal by a Supreme Court judge is very rare. This usually only happens when a judge has a personal financial interest in an entity before the Court or a personal relationship with a person involved in the case, or when the judge has actually been involved in some way or another. other in the case before it reaches the court. None of these things apply to the current situation. This is a difficult constitutional case and it deserves to be heard by a full tribunal. Judge Coney Barrett is unlikely to step down.