On Supreme Court steps, Dem senator calls right-leaning justices 'servants' of dark money interests

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse stood outside the Supreme Court Wednesday and called out GOP justices for the “evil” of allowing unlimited dark money into elections and partisan gerrymandering. 

The Rhode Island Democrat was speaking at an event with other senators and activists to promote election reform legislation, known as S.1, when he took a personal swipe at the justices. 

“We got to keep the spotlight on the six Republicans in the building behind me who are the servants of right-wing dark money interests,” Whitehouse said at the steps of the Supreme Court. “That is no place for a court to be in our great republic, and we have got to call it out.”

Whitehouse said it was fitting to hold a rally on the S.1 legislation at the Supreme Court since the For the People Act aims to curb dark money political donations and end partisan gerrymandering. 

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., walks past people holding up the words "For the People" as he arrives for a rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, to support the Senate’s upcoming election bill. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“Thank you particularly for holding this in front of the United States Supreme Court – the captured court that has done so much evil to our democracy,” Whitehouse said. He said the high court gave “a clear path to partisan gerrymandering” and opened up “unlimited money into our politics.”

Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has long raised alarms about anonymous big-money interests in politics, brought up the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that opened up the floodgates for corporate money in elections and gave way to Super PACs. 

“So we didn’t just get unlimited money from Citizens United, we got unlimited anonymous, corrupting money,” Whitehouse said. “And now they have taken a case where they’re looking to give anonymous unlimited corrupting money a constitutional right. We cannot let that happen.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., speaks at a rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, to support the Senate’s upcoming election bill. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Whitehouse earlier this year warned about a pending case before the Supreme Court, involving the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, that he said could tee up the court to lock in dark-money interests under the First Amendment. The high court is expected to issue its ruling on that case this June. 

Separately, Whitehouse is also leading a bipartisan effort to seek travel records of the nine Supreme Court justices for the last 10 years to evaluate whether government ethics and transparency rules need to be changed. 

During Wednesday’s event, Democratic senators, members of Congress and activists tried to rally support around the For the People Act that already passed the House but faces a steeper climb in the Senate, especially as Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said he won’t back it. The major election overhaul legislation would set minimum federal standards for voting access to polls, establish grassroots public funding for congressional and presidential elections and set up transparency rules to require groups running political ads to disclose donors. 

Democrats framed the legislation as an urgent priority given the stricter voting rules GOP-led states have put in place after former President Trump lost the 2020 election. The senators urged activists to keep up the fight because they said democracy was on the line. 

“It may be a steeper climb than we had thought,” Whitehouse said of passing S.1. “But we have fought bigger battles before and won them. America has always come out on top.”

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