George Graham

Corruption? No, “Democracy”



Jamaicans and Canadians might be surprised to learn that what they would call corruption is the way democracy is supposed to work in America.

You see, both Jamaica and Canada adhere to the straitlaced British tradition of government for the people – all of the people – without fear or favor.

Apparently that’s not the way it works in America. And, in the opinion of the country’s highest court, that’s not the way it’s meant to work.

According to Chief Justice John Roberts – backed up by Justice Anthony Kennedy – American politicians are supposed to do the bidding of their financial supporters. What some might contemptuously describe as “pay-for-play” is what both members of the US Supreme Court consider the natural order of things.

Don’t believe me? Check out this morning’s “Think Progress” report by Ian Millhiser (link below).

Millhiser refers to  a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar that states may “prohibit judges and judicial candidates from personally soliciting funds for their campaigns.”  And he quotes Chief Justice Roberts as justifying the ruling this way:

States may regulate judicial elections differently than they regulate political elections, because the role of judges differs from the role of politicians. Politicians are expected to be appropriately responsive to the preferences of their supporters. Indeed, such “responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.” The same is not true of judges. In deciding cases, a judge is not to follow the preferences of his supporters, or provide any special consideration to his campaign donors. A judge instead must “observe the utmost fairness,” striving to be “perfectly and completely independent, with nothing to influence or control him but God and his conscience.”

Millhiser points out, with unassailable logic, that “the implication of the passage quoted above is that members of Congress, state lawmakers, governors and presidents should provide such consideration to their supporters and to their donors.”

He adds that the chief justice’s view is shared by other members of the court (photos above).  Indeed, he writes, “it drove much of the Court’s widely maligned campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. FEC.”  And he quotes Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion that “favoritism and influence” are unavoidable in a representative democracy, and could even be seen as a positive good. Here’s how Kennedy explains the Citizens United ruling:

It is well understood that a substantial and legitimate reason, if not the only reason, to cast a vote for, or to make a contribution to, one candidate over another is that the candidate will respond by producing those political outcomes the supporter favors… Democracy is premised on responsiveness.

Cynical? Horrifying? Disheartening?

All of the above, of course. How are we to muster up the energy to vote in a land where the highest court holds such views?

Click for the Think Progress article.

Click for more on the justices.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for