Who Owns the Supreme Court?



At the nomination hearing of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made news by likening the hearing to a puppet theater. In a twenty-minute presentation, the senator laid out the connections between what he called “dark money” and those who have been controlling the Supreme Court. His claim was that monied interests have been driving Supreme Court nominations and decisions, with a conservatizing effect. But is there more to the story than just money corrupting politics?

In his presentation, he discussed the $250 million that was spent in a “behind-the-scenes campaign to remake the nation’s courts,” calling out conservatives for their manipulations and dismantling of any pretense of democracy. He recounted the goals of these dark money groups using front groups which claim to have a relationship to the question being considered to file amicus briefs that they say offer information, expertise, or a perspective that has a bearing on the issues in the case. Examples include: reversing Roe v. Wade, which would limit access to abortions; rolling back the Affordable Care Act; banning gay marriage; weakening regulatory agencies; and more. Along with revoking rights won through decades of struggle by the oppressed and exploited, many lesser known decisions give free choice to large corporations to operate without any restrictions on their pollution of the environment and endangering workers’ lives in the workplace.

One such dark money group is Judicial Crisis Network, which funnels millions of dollars from wealthy conservatives’ pockets into Supreme Court confirmations. Just this month, they committed to spending over $2 million, to get a swift confirmation of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. The goal was to secure a Trump-nominated judge to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, before the elections that could put Trump out of office and/or end the Republican majority in the Senate. All in all, the Judicial Crisis Network committed $17 million to pushing Trump’s three Supreme Court nominees. This was followed by $14.8 million from one of the major “dark money” operations, the Wellspring Committee (which ceased its operations last year) to get Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court secured.

It’s not just conservatives involved in these dark money conspiracies. Sixteen Thirty Fund, operating as a non-profit, has funneled millions in donations to liberal organizations it sponsors, including efforts to sway Supreme Court nominations. It does this through a variety of projects, such as Demand Justice, which leave no paper trail because they operate as unincorporated entities under the sponsorship of the Sixteen Thirty Fund. In other words, we often don’t know who is funding which organizations, or where their money is coming from.

Whitehouse’s accusations were shocking to many, as they revealed some of the truth about the Supreme Court. But the reality runs even deeper. It’s not just the country’s highest judicial body that functions undemocratically, it’s the whole political and economic system. And it’s about much more than money in politics, it’s about a system that serves to expand and protect profits, at the expense of everything else—democracy, peoples’ lives, and the planet included.

Some claim that the solution to ending the control of the rich over the system is to get money out of politics and demand more transparency. But how would this work, when the entire system serves the interests of the rich? We need a system that operates in the interest of the majority, not the interest of a small exploiting capitalist class.