Weekly Democratic Address
March 31, 2017
Hi, I’m Sheldon Whitehouse. I serve the people of Rhode Island in the United States Senate and I sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is in charge of considering nominees for the United States Supreme Court – the most powerful court in the world and one of our most important American institutions.
Right now, the Committee is preparing to vote on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge, to be our next Associate Justice on the Court. I want to give you an update on what I’ve learned about Judge Gorsuch during his confirmation process – and what I haven’t.
We began the hearing with a predicament: over the last decade or so, when Republican appointees were a five-justice majority on the Court, a distinct pattern emerged of 5-4 decisions benefiting Republicans at the polls and big corporations pretty much everywhere. The results became predictable.
The evidence is hard to overlook. In election-related rulings involving issues like gerrymandering, state efforts to suppress Democratic-leaning voters, or flooding our elections with Republican-leaning corporate spending, the score ended up 6-0, coming down on the side favoring Republican interests at the polls.
In rulings where corporations stood to benefit versus humans, it’s even more of a rout. Businesses over unions. Corporations’ rights over women’s rights. Gun manufacturers, investment banks, and big polluters over individual citizens’ safety, finances, and health. Companies got to chip away at consumers’ Seventh Amendment right to the civil jury. And, of course, the rulings on corporate political spending benefitted the big corporations, out peddling their influence. By the count that I used in the hearing, the score on that front is 16-0 for corporations.
During the hearing, I asked Judge Gorsuch about some of these important decisions and what he might do when presented with similar questions on the Supreme Court bench.
In particular, I asked him about all the “dark money” in our politics, which has smothered the voices of individual Americans and obscures the hands behind the dark money.
You’ve all seen the ads: phony front groups with funny names like People for Puppies and Prosperity, telling you in an ominous voice why Senator Smith wants to end America as you know it. Behind that front group, someone is paying for that airtime. Thanks to Citizens United, unlimited money can flow through those dark money entities, letting corporations and their ultra-wealthy owners buy unprecedented influence.
That’s why I wanted to hear what Judge Gorsuch thinks about unlimited dark money flooding our politics. In particular, I wanted to know what he thought about the shadowy dark money group that has spent $17 million to back him and oppose last year’s well-qualified nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.
Judge Gorsuch couldn’t answer the question. In fact, when I pressed him and asked what made him so much more appealing than Judge Garland to the backers of this dark money group, here’s what he said.
[Video of exchange]
Senator Whitehouse: What’s interesting is that this group sees a huge difference between you that I don’t understand. The dark money group that is spending money on your election spent at least $7 million against him getting a hearing and a confirmation here and indeed produced that result by spending that money. And then, now, we have $10 million going the other way. That’s $17 million delta, and, for the life of me, I’m trying to figure out what they see in you that makes that $17 million delta worth their spending. Do you have any answer to that?
Judge Gorsuch: You would have to ask them.
Sen. Whitehouse: I can’t because I don’t know who they are. It’s just a front group.
The Supreme Court has a very big and important job to do. Our Constitution grants the Supreme Court the indispensable job of protecting our democracy, the integrity of our elections, and the voices of individual citizens. The next Supreme Court Justice has to understand that job and to see with clear eyes the threats that can silence our citizens.
Dark money is one of the biggest of those threats.
Judge Gorsuch needed to convince me he would not join the posse of Republican appointees that has relentlessly stretched the law to benefit Republican partisans and corporations at the expense of everyone else. He needed to convince me he would stand up to real threats to our democracy like dark money. Over and over again during his hearing, he dodged and ducked and failed.
My colleagues and I are calling on Judge Gorsuch to ask this dark money group backing his nomination to tell us who’s really behind them. We’re also calling on the group directly to come clean to the American people about their backers. We need that answer before the vote on Monday.