One of the great mysteries of modern politics today is how the state of Minnesota could have produced both Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) and Democrat Sen. Al Franken. While Bachmann this week was accusing the Obama administration of “fleecing” BP, urging its execs not to be “chumps,” and suggesting that a $20 billion escrow fund for oil spill victims was a form of “wealth redistribution,” Franken Thursday night was wowing an audience of lawyers with a remarkably pointed critique of the Roberts court and its efforts to enhance the power of already powerful corporations. The contrast couldn’t be more different.
Speaking at the American Constitution Society’s annual convention in DC, Franken offered up his unique blend of political criticism and comic delivery in a speech that sounded an awful lot like a rallying cry for Congress to push back against the Supreme Court’s pro-business decisionmaking. He honed in on the conservative Federalist Society and bashed the Roberts court for its overreach in cases like Citizens United, where the court answered questions it wasn’t even asked. “I mean, I don’t speak Latin. But unless stare decisis means ‘overturn stuff,’ then maybe it’s time for conservatives to stop calling other people ‘dangerous radicals,'” he said.
Conservatives, Franken said, have “distorted our constitutional discourse to make it sound like the Court’s rulings don’t matter to ordinary people, but only to the undeserving riff-raff at the margins of society. So unless you want to get a late-term abortion, burn a flag in the town square, or get federal funding for your pornographic artwork, you really don’t need to worry about what the Supreme Court is up to.” Much of Franken’s speech concerned the real people whose lives are indeed affected by the court’s decisions, including Jaime Leigh Jones, the KBR employee who was allegedly gang-raped by her co-workers in Iraq and whose case Franken has championed.
One of the themes of Franken’s speech was the way conservative legal activists have changed the way they talk about the law to disguise what their real agenda is. “Do they want to undercut abortion and immigration and Miranda rights? Sure. But those are just cherries on the sundae. What conservative legal activists are really interested in is this question: What individual rights are so basic and so important that they should be protected above a corporation’s right to profit? And their preferred answer is: None of them. Zero.”
I could go on about all the interesting things he had to say, but print doesn’t really do Franken justice. ACS has just posted the video of his speech, and you can watch the whole thing. It’s worth a look. (UPDATE: ACS seems to be having a problem with the video, but you can find the audio on their site here.)