Montana’s two U.S. Senators are split on the vote to confirm or not confirm Neil Gorsuch as the next lifetime member of the US Supreme Court. Senior Senator Jon Tester has decided to vote against confirmation, citing Gorsuch’s propensity to judge cases in a way that empowers corporations over individuals.
Specifically Tester believes that Gorsuch supports the massive intrusion of corporations into our election processes, a political disaster that has allowed almost unmeasurable corporate influence since the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision was handed down a little over 7 years ago. Essentially, that case made corporations “citizens” and ruled that their money was “free speech” under the Constitution.
Senator Tester’s opposition to Gorsuch based on this is consistent with the position held by 75% of Montanans when they voted on these very questions on a ballot issue in 2012. Junior Senator Steve Daines, on the other hand, backed President Trump’s nominee in a statement from the Senate floor where, among other things, he ironically said that:
“Most importantly, the American people deserve nine members on the Supreme Court.”
That “most important” rationale rings hollow given Senator Daines’ shameful obstructionism over the last 380+ days while the important Supreme Court seat lay vacant.
Perhaps Senator Daines is banking on us forgetting that getting nine members on the court was not the most important thing to him when he joined a highly partisan effort to not only deny a hearing on President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, but also to refuse to personally meet and talk with the well-qualified nominee. The previous record for non-action on a nominee was the 125 days it took to confirm Louis Brandeis in 1916.
The denial of Merrick Garland broke that ignominious record way back on July 26, 2016. All the while Daines maintained his record-setting obstructionism on Merrick Garland for the last 8 months, he was silent on the “most important” issue of the American people deserving “nine members on the Supreme Court.” Now it is suddenly important. Senator Daines’ hypocritical silence of the last year is deafening today.
Senator Tester, in contrast, has not hidden behind unconscionable delaying tactics like Daines did with Merrick Garland. In Montana fashion, he had a personal meeting with Gorsuch, supported Gorsuch having a hearing and is participating in an up-or- down confirmation vote. And his reasons for voting against Gorsuch are clear. Senator Tester is “deeply concerned that dark money will continue to drown out the voices and votes of citizens … [saying that] over the years, Judge Gorsuch gave corporations the same Constitutional rights as a nurse from Plentywood, a teacher from Kalispell, or a farmer from Fort Benton.”
Tester said, “When it comes to the letter of the law, he [Gorsuch] believes corporations are people.”
Further, Senator Tester said that “according to [one of] Judge Gorsuch’s opinion[s] …he believes campaign contributions deserve First Amendment [free speech] protections… [adding that] Montanans know: money is not speech.” Said Senator Tester: “I am concerned that if Judge Gorsuch is confirmed, our future will be shaped with dark money…”
Those issues were addressed directly by Montana voters when they overwhelmingly approved Initiative 166 in 2012. Specifically, 75% of Montana voters held “that corporations are not human beings with constitutional rights and that each such [state or federal] elected and appointed official is charged to act to prohibit… corporations from making contributions to or expenditures on the campaigns of candidates or ballot issues.” That directive from the people includes Senator Daines.
Those 75% voted that the people of Montana regard:
- “money as property, not speech;”
- Constitutional rights as “rights of human beings, not rights of corporations;” and
- “immense aggregation of [corporate] wealth … [as] corrosive and distorting when used to advance the political interests of corporations.”
Based upon Senator Tester’s evaluation of Judge Gorsuch’s record in support of corporate citizenship and money as free speech, our senior Senator is to be commended for following the course laid out clearly at the ballot box by 75% of Montanans. Senator Daines, in contrast, has chosen to ignore that 75%, ignore their directives about this important issue, and has sided with President Trump, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell and the corporate elite over the people of Montana.
Evan Barrett, who lives in historic Uptown Butte, recently retired after 47 years at the top level of Montana economic development, government, politics and education. He is an award-winning producer of Montana history films who continues to write columns and record commentaries, and occasionally teach Montana history.