Statements on Gorsuch’s Record on Campaign Finance and Voting Rights
Judge Neil Gorsuch was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday and his confirmation is likely headed for a vote on the floor of the Senate tomorrow.
Americans deserve to know whether Judge Gorsuch will decide on campaign finance cases in a way that tilts the political system even more in the direction of large campaign donors. Americans also deserve to know whether he will protect every citizen’s right to cast an effective and meaningful vote at the ballot box.
Campaign finance reform proponents are pointing to Gorsuch’s decision in Riddle v. Hickenlooper and are concerned that he believes political contributions should be afforded the highest form of constitutional protection. If he believes that limits on campaign contributions should be reviewed under strict scrutiny, advocates for accountability in government will continue to face an uphill battle to protect longstanding campaign finance laws.
More than 20 U.S. Senators have expressed concern about Gorsuch’s nomination in statements that specifically cite money in politics. They are concerned about contribution limits as well as the rising presence of dark money in our elections and its impact on government transparency. Here are some of their statements:
Concerns about Supreme Court decisions on money in politics
- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer referenced Gorsuch’s decision in the Hickenlooper case, when he said, “I saw a Judge who, on the issue of money in politics, seems to be in the same company as Justices Thomas and Scalia —willing to restrict the most common-sense contribution limits.”
- Sen. Angus King said, "My thinking is that while the hearing may have left many of us uncertain as to Gorsuch's philosophy. The sponsors of this campaign [to support Gorsuch] are not uncertain at all. They are spending this huge sum because they know what tehy are getting, and that raises serious concerns, particularly given the judge's reluctance to discuss the Citizens United decision.
- Judiciary Committee member Sen. Pat Leahy said that Gorsuch, “misstated the holding of Citizens United in an attempt to evade my question about Congress’s ability to enact campaign finance legislation.”
- Sen. Jon Tester said, “With Judge Gorsuch on the bench, I am deeply concerned that dark money will continue to drown out the voices and votes of citizens.” He continued, “And, according to Judge Gorsuch’s opinion in Riddle v. Hickenlooper, he believes campaign contributions deserve First Amendment protections. Montanans know: money is not speech.”
- Sen. Gary Peters said, “[Gorsuch] has also failed to acknowledge how deeply the Citizens United decision has corrupted our government by opening the floodgates for special interest money to pour into our elections.”
- Sen. Chris Van Hollen said, “In Citizens United, we watched the Court trample over statutes and trample Supreme Court precedent to empower corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to elect representatives who will do their bidding.”
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, “I also focused on the judge’s approach to campaign finance law. Since Citizens United, hidden super-sized PAC money has had an outsized influence in our politics, distorting our representative democracy. In a concurring opinion in Riddle v. Hickenlooper, Gorsuch went out of his way to suggest that the Court should apply strict scrutiny to laws restricting campaign contributions. If the Supreme Court adopted that view, it could compromise the few remaining campaign finance protections that are still on the books.”
- Sen. Chris Murphy said on Facebook, “Citizens United remains as one of the worst decisions of the Supreme Court in my lifetime, as it flooded our democracy with unlimited, secret, special interest and billionaire money.”
- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Gorsuch did not give recognize as legitimate the concern that “the flood of money into politics after Citizens United has had an evil effect on our democracy.”
- Sen. Patty Murray stated her concerns about Gorsuch, rooted in “His testimony before the Judiciary Committee regarding Citizens United, in which he incorrectly stated that the Court left Congress the ability to enact commonsense campaign spending limits, strengthens my decision.”
Concerns about dark money in American elections
- Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said, “I was also disheartened by his evasive answers to questions regarding the increased amount of secret money in politics.”
- Sen. Jeff Merkley said that appointing Gorsuch would “threaten fundamental rights in America” including “the rights of ordinary citizens to have their voices heard in elections rather than being drowned out by the corrupting influence of dark money from the richest Americans.”
- Sen. Maggie Hassan said “Judge Gorsuch’s history of siding with corporations and his vague responses on the Citizens United decision suggest that he would rule to continue allowing unlimited, dark money to overwhelm our political system and the voices of everyday Americans.”
- Sen. Bill Nelson said that he is concerned “about [Gorsuch’s] positions on the undisclosed and unlimited campaign money.”
- Sen. Claire McCaskill said, “I cannot and will not support a nominee that allows dark and dirty anonymous money to continue to flood unchecked into our elections.”
- Sen. Tom Udall said Gorsuch’s failure to answer basic questions on a variety of issues–including “dark money in our elections”–was a reason to oppose him.
Would Gorsuch be a justice in the mold of Antonin Scalia? In 2013, Scalia led the Court’s 5-4 decision to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, making it easier for states and localities to put up roadblocks to voting. Scalia considered the Voting Rights Act a “racial entitlement.”
Voting rights advocates fear that Gorsuch will allow discriminatory voter ID laws, premised on unfounded voter fraud claims, to take root in the states and make it harder for millions of Americans, disproportionately minority Americans, to vote. This is particularly important as the White House prepares to set up a commission to investigate President Trump’s charges of massive fraud in the 2016 elections. Many see this “investigation” as a precursor to further voter suppression efforts. But the public still does not know whether Gorsuch was involved in the politicization scandal at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2005 and 2006, while he was a high-ranking official. What we do know is that Gorsuch was friendly with Hans Von Spakovsy, a lawyer who has pushed many voter suppression laws, including Georgia’s strict voter ID law in 2005. If confirmed, Gorsuch could end up deciding whether to dismantle the remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
Here are some of the times Senators have spoken out about their concerns on Gorsuch’s voting rights record, or his unwillingness to answer substantive questions that would make his stance on these issues more clear.
Concerns about protections for voters
- Sen. Kamala Harris worries that Gorsuch will preserve the institution that “gutted the Voting Rights Act [VRA]” and “empowered corporations to pollute our political system with secret, unaccountable money.” She wrote, “Judge Gorsuch’s record also shows he’s willing to favor corporations over the American people.”
- Sen. Patrick Leahy asked whether Gorsuch agrees with Justice Scalia’s characterization of the VRA as a perpetuation of racial entitlement. Gorsuch refused to answer the question.
- Sen. Maria Cantwell said, “There is too much at stake – from women’s choice and immigration reform to LGBTQ rights and marriage equality to voting rights and campaign finance reform. I have concerns about Judge Gorsuch’s record on a number of issues.”
- Sen. Bill Nelson said, “I am concerned about his positions on the suppression of voting rights.”
- Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “We cannot stand by while the court dismantles the Voting Rights Act and lets cowards in statehouses erect roadblocks to voting.”
- Gorsuch refused to answer questions from Sen. Al Franken about whether he agreed with Justice Antonin Scalia’s critical remarks about reauthorizing a key section of the Voting Rights Act.
- Sen. Jack Reed said that, “If Judge Gorsuch is confirmed, I would worry he would try to circumscribe voting rights and impose new constraints on civil liberties.”