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Montana’s two senators were split on the vote that recently confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. U.S. Sen. Jon Tester voted against confirmation, citing Gorsuch’s propensity to judge cases in a way that empowers corporations over individuals. Tester believes that Gorsuch supports the massive intrusion of corporations into our election processes, a political disaster that has allowed almost unmeasurable corporate influence on campaigns and elections since the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision. That case made corporations “citizens” and declared their money “free speech.” Tester’s opposition to Gorsuch based on this was consistent with the position held by 75 percent of Montanans when they voted on these very questions on a state ballot issue in 2012.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines backed President Trump’s nominee in a Senate floor statement where he ironically said that “most importantly, the American people deserve nine members on the Supreme Court.” That “most important” rationale rings hollow given Daines’ obstructionism for the last 380-plus days while the Supreme Court seat lay vacant.

“Getting nine members on the court” wasn’t the most important thing to Daines when he not only joined a partisan effort to deny a hearing to President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, but also refused to personally meet with the well-qualified nominee. The previous record for non-action on a Supreme Court nominee was broken back on July 26, 2016. Before and since that day, Daines maintained his obstructionism on Merrick Garland. He never said a word about the American people deserving “nine members on the Supreme Court” until his recent speech on behalf of Gorsuch – the kind of hypocritical flip-flop that turns people off about politicians.

Tester didn’t hide behind delaying tactics like Daines did with Garland. In true Montana fashion, he treated Gorsuch fairly, personally meeting with him, supporting Gorsuch having a hearing and participating in an up-or-down confirmation vote. Tester’s reasons for voting against Gorsuch were honest and clear – he was “deeply concerned that dark money will continue to drown out the voices and votes of citizens… [saying that] over the years, Gorsuch gave corporations the same Constitutional rights as a nurse from Plentywood, a teacher from Kalispell, or a farmer from Fort Benton.” Tester said, “When it comes to the letter of the law, [Gorsuch] believes corporations are people.”

Further, Tester said that Gorsuch, according to an opinion, “believes campaign contributions deserve First Amendment [free speech] protections.” “Montanans know: money is not speech,” said Tester. He noted his concern “that if Gorsuch is confirmed, our future will be shaped with dark money.”

Those very issues were addressed directly by Montana when the voters overwhelming approved Initiative 166 in 2012. Specifically, 75 percent of Montana voters held “that corporations are not human beings with constitutional rights and that each [state or federal] elected and appointed official [is] charged to act to prohibit… corporations from making contributions to or expenditures on the campaigns of candidates or ballot issues.” That directive from the people of Montana includes Daines.

Those 75 percent voted that the people of Montana regard:

• “money as property, not speech;”

• Constitutional rights as “rights of human beings, not rights of corporations;” and,

• “immense aggregation of [corporate] wealth … [as] corrosive and distorting when used to advance the political interests of corporations.”

In rejecting Gorsuch, Tester is to be commended for following the course laid out clearly at the ballot box by 75 percent of Montanans regarding corporate citizenship and money as free speech. Daines, however, in voting for Gorsuch, chose to ignore that 75 percent, ignore their directives about this important issue, and sided with the corporate elite over the people of Montana.

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Evan Barrett, who lives in historic Uptown Butte, recently retired after 47 years at the top level of Montana economic development, government, politics and education. He is an award-winning producer of Montana history films who continues to write columns and record commentaries, and occasionally teach Montana history.

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