International Forecaster Weekly


Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court took two steps backwards in the fight for fair and transparent elections — and in the process struck one more blow to our fragile and vulnerable representative democracy.

Guest Writer | July 3, 2021

By Dave Allen for Discount Gold & Silver

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court took two steps backwards in the fight for fair and transparent elections — and in the process struck one more blow to our fragile and vulnerable representative democracy.

The first case was more partisan in its effect, if not intent. The Atlantic’s Caroline Mimbs Nyce observed, “In the legal battle over who gets to vote in America, Republicans just scored a point.”

In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court tacitly gave the thumbs up to a restrictive voting law in Arizona. 

The decision, Mimbs Nyce warns, “will make it easier for similar laws (in other states) to survive challenges.”

And with this ruling, the nation once again saw the Voting Rights Act further watered down.

The Atlantic’s Vann Newkirk believes “[a] decision like this was inevitable. It was always a long shot for existing interpretations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to completely survive today’s decision.” 

Newkirk observes that the Clarence Thomas wing of the Supreme Court “have long signaled their hostility to that provision of the law.”

“Section 2,” he adds, “has allowed Americans to challenge voting laws that have disproportionate racial effects.

In 2013, Shelby County v. Holder took the meat out proactive U.S. Justice Department oversight of the racial effects of voting laws. 

Newkirk laments, “Although Section 2 wasn’t completely destroyed today, as many feared it would be, the decision leaves states to make it ever harder for people of color to vote, while chasing imagined voter fraud.”

As a result, Newkirk’s newsroom colleague Ronald Brownstein says, “Only Congress can save voting rights now.”

He sees the court’s decision through a more partisan lens: “Today’s…decision showed that the only way Democrats can reverse the wave of restrictive voting laws in GOP-controlled states is to pass new federal voting rights by curtailing the Senate filibuster.” 

Brownstein added, “It makes plain that if Congress doesn’t establish new federal standards, the nation is headed toward a two-tier voting system, with red states imposing ever-tightening restrictions that especially burden Democratic-leaning…voters.”

Court Also Strikes Requirement for Nonprofits to Name Donors

In a separate and equally disturbing 6-3 ruling, the Court also struck down a California requirement for charities to provide the names and addresses of their top donors in annual filings with the state.

Saying the rule violates the constitution’s First Amendment, the decision is an immediate victory for two groups — the Thomas More Law Center and the Charles Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

Both groups had argued that the California rule puts their donors at risk of harassment and intimidation.

Although California said it keeps the information confidential, the groups said the state has a history of inadvertently disclosing private information. 

California countered that any public-disclosure risk doesn’t outweigh the state’s legitimate need for the information to evaluate complaints against charities and investigate instances of fraud.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion: “California casts a dragnet for sensitive donor information from tens of thousands of charities each year, even though that information will become relevant in only a small number of cases involving filed complaints.”

California was one of four states — aside New York, New Jersey and Hawaii — requiring charities to provide a copy of their Schedule B, a form that organizations routinely file with their federal tax returns. 

That form generally shows the names and addresses of people who contributed more than $5,000 during the last year.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan dissented, saying the challengers hadn’t shown the donors wanted privacy or were burdened by disclosure.

Sotomayor wrote for the group, “Regulated entities who wish to avoid their obligations can [now] do so by vaguely waving toward First Amendment ‘privacy concerns.’”

The First Amendment showdown drew a lot of interest, in part because of its potential implications for political campaigns. 

Although the California rule applied only to so-called 501(c)(3) charities, advocates of campaign-finance reform said the case could be a step toward a further attack on election disclosure laws.

Even so, the challengers had an ideological cross-section of backers that said they have strong donor privacy interests of their own. 

They included the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the ACLU, and the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

Decisions Are an Arrow through Democracy

To the extent that an individual or corporate charitable contribution creates a bona fide tax deduction, I believe it should be within the public’s right to know who the “major” contributors to a nonprofit are.

Whether California’s $5,000 threshold or another formula is more appropriate is up for debate. But disclosure is especially critical with political and advocacy contributions. 

The most important Supreme Court decision affecting our political process in modern times was 2010’s Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission.

That’s where the court essentially held, among other things, that corporations are people and that it’s not constitutional to limit the amount they contribute to independent political action committees.

The ruling has ushered in massive increases in political spending from outside groups — dramatically expanding the already undue political influence of wealthy donors, corporations, and special interest groups.

But perhaps the two most dangerous outcomes of Citizens United have been the creation of super PACs, which empower the wealthiest donors — at the expense of the rest of us — and the expansion of dark money through shadowy nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors’ names.

These political phenomena are among the three or four fundamentally bad practices — along with partisan gerrymandering and the lack of term limits — that contribute to, if not exacerbate, the dysfunction in our representative democracy and prevent it from reaching its potential. 

And court decisions such as yesterday’s sure don’t help.