Live From South by Southwest, With Sen. Jeff Merkley

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership.

S2: We say filibuster, we’re not talking about people standing and speaking at length. We’re talking about 60 votes to close debate. And Mitch McConnell wanting to prevent anything good being done for America while a Democrat is president.

S3: Hi, this is Dahlia Lithwick, and I’m popping up this off week for Amicus to share a conversation I had recently that I think is a really interesting and worthy follow on from the conversation we had on the last show when we talked to Jessie Amundson about the big voting rights case Burna Bitch that she argued at the Supreme Court this month. So as part of this year’s South by Southwest Festival, which is going on right now, I had a chance to speak to Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon about voting big money, dark money and about the filibuster. Merkley is one of the co-sponsors of this one, as it is known in the Senate. It’s the companion bill to H.R. one in the House. More broadly, the for the People Act. Senator Merkley introduced the bill into the Senate this week. So this is a timely conversation. I think you’ll learn a lot. Enjoy.

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S1: Hi and welcome to South by Southwest and today’s urgently needed discussion with Senator Jeff Merkley from Oregon on democracy, reform and voting rights and the For the People Act, which is a comprehensive Senate package aimed at bolstering basic ideas of one person, one vote in constitutional democracy. My name is Dahlia Lithwick. I cover the courts and the Supreme Court and the law for Slate and hosts the podcast Amicus. And I’m so delighted to be in conversation today with Senator Merkley on this issue. So I think I’m just going to start by saying that we’re here to try to connect to kind of attenuated ideas that despite Joe Biden’s victory in inauguration, democracy has by no means triumphed over impulses of authoritarianism and that we need structural reform to bolster the kind of slightly rickety infrastructure we have now. And so I think I want to start just saying there’s nobody I’d rather talk to about this issue than Senator Merkley, who’s been working so phenomenally hard to try to draw attention to and kind of shine a light on these issues. Senator Merkley has served as the junior U.S. senator from Oregon since 2009. Before that, he was the sixty fourth speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives. He’s been a leading voice in this effort to restore the foundations of democratic governance by taking on these issues. We are going to discuss today vote suppression, dark money, gerrymandering, corruption. So, Senator Merkley, I want to welcome you to South by Southwest. It’s really a treat to get to talk to you again.

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S4: All year, thanks so much, it’s a pleasure to be with you and this is such an important topic for the future of our country.

S1: So I think I want to start by just saying that these ideas are not necessarily connected. I think there has been we have lived through four years of illiberalism, of what seems like authoritarianism. And then you and I are going to have a conversation about democracy, reform and voting rights. So, of course, they’re connected in some sense. But I think that for people who say, hey, you know, phew, we just emerged from a four year period that saw fundamental erosions of constitutional rights and freedom. And look, the system held everything worked, and we stood in lines and we voted. And so we can move on and think about other things. And I think you and I start from the opposite presumption that the system held, but barely. I think you told The Atlantic you see it as if, quote, the American vision of representative government has slid over the cliff. And it’s like we caught a root and we are just clinging on to it by our fingertips. So somewhere between the Capitol insurrection on January 6th, Brennan Center reporting showing that in the twenty twenty one so far, we’ve seen 253 bills to restrict voting access in 43 states, seven CPAC panels on vote fraud and stolen elections. You and I, I think, agree that this is not over by any means. This is ongoing and possibly escalating. But I’m going to ask the hard question first, Senator, which is connect what we’ve seen in the last four years for people who don’t understand why democracy reform urgently needs to happen now.

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S5: Dahlia, this is the way I would frame it, that in any republic you have a tension between the very powerful using all the instruments that they have to enact laws that favor the very powerful and against that force. You then have grassroots voices, efforts organizing who want to use the power of the ballot box to address the fundamental needs of ordinary people. So you have the powerful against ordinary families. And I think this is symbolized by what we saw during the Trump administration where they took their top priority to be two things. Well, two top priorities. One was tax cuts for the richest Americans, and the second was putting federalist members of the Federalist Society into the courts.

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S6: And the Federalist Society was formed to essentially have the courts find a version of the First Amendment that favored corporate power over ordinary people. So these two things that were the top driving force behind the Trump administration weren’t about ordinary families. They were about the powerful. And why does this tension exist while you think about it, when you have a concentration of wealth, that money can be used to hire lobbyists, that money can be invested in elections, that money can be used in media campaigns to change the essential understanding of an issue on how to how to frame an issue that can be used in teams of lawyers to contest things in the courts. And it can be used after you have control of the legislature to change the laws so that the laws continue to favor the more powerful. And there is a point that really represents that completely. It’s changing the laws that make it harder for ordinary people to vote. So the voice of the powerful is threatened by the voice of the people and if harder for the people to get to the ballot and it makes it easier for the wealthy and powerful to keep doing the wealthy and powerful thing, which is make themselves better off so that there’s this fundamental tension. And we see this right now being played out across America, where state legislatures and governors, particularly in states that have Republican members of our House and Senate, state House, state Senate governor proceeded to say, let’s make it much harder for people to vote. Let’s limit early voting, let’s limit vote by mail. Let’s purge the voting rolls of those who vote only periodically. Let’s force people to vote on Election Day, which means we can manipulate the precincts to make it harder to vote. Understaff, the precincts, reduce the number, reduce the number of drop boxes, put machinery in that. That doesn’t work. I tell people that the vote was last week, so they missed the vote this week. There’s so much manipulation that can go on. So this is where S1 comes in before the people act. It says, hey, no, our job under the Constitution here in the Senate, we’ve taken our oath of office to defend the constitutional vision of the participation of Americans in the direction of their government. That is government of, by and for the people. Whether your views are on the right or on the left, you get to participate. And that’s the battle we’re in the middle of right now.

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S1: I love what you’re saying, Senator, because I think you make this really important point, which is it’s easy to look at the last four years as kind of episodic. anti-Democratic moments, but what you’re talking about is an entire infrastructure that exists that long exists pre-exist Trump, it will continue to exist after Donald Trump. And your point is that the capture of the courts, the dark money, influence on the conversation, state Republican efforts to disenfranchise minority voters. That’s been going on for a very long time. Removing Donald Trump and putting Biden into office doesn’t change any of that infrastructure. The money is continuing to pour into that. And that’s one of the things you want to turn off.

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S4: Yes, absolutely, there’s three basic forms of of corrupted practices that we’re addressing. One is the dark money that is money in our campaign system. We don’t know where it comes from. You can attribute who’s buying those ads, so on and so forth. And it’s hidden through multiple shell operations that move the money to and fro or people who never have disclosed in the first place. Back when we had the battle over putting limits on what you and I can donate to a campaign that was McCain-Feingold Bill. So you had a progressive Feingold, you had a conservative McCain who said, hey, this money is contaminating the system. So let’s put a limit on what an ordinary person can donate. Well, they put those limits in place. But what happened is the money found another way.

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S6: It moved through a whole series of PACs that became dark money. And then we had a bill called the DISCLOSE Act saying, hey, you’ve got to shine a light on that. And we it was so interesting because we had all these people who during McCain-Feingold said don’t put a limit. The answer is instead sunshine of public disclosure. And when we voted on disclosure, suddenly they voted against it, protecting that money, the hundreds of millions of dollars that really stemmed from 2014 forward with Citizens United decision. So voter suppression. Another big piece of this, and that’s what we see in all these tactics I was just describing that are erupting in statehouses across the country to make it harder and harder to vote. And then gerrymandered, which doesn’t affect the Senate, has a huge impact on state legislatures and on representation in Congress. And you hear these explosive discussions. Let’s further gerrymander our state to basically reclaim control of the US House of Representatives right now. That bias there are there are Democratic states that are gerrymandered like Maryland. There are Republican states like Texas. But most political scientists say it amounts to about 15 to 20 votes currently in favor of Republicans, more bias and gerrymandering and red states.

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S4: So having independent commissions set up the boundaries is a way to address this on on the front end.

S1: I wonder this is going to seem like an unfair question, but I’m going to ask in any way, is it fair to say that the GOP is currently constituted is enabling the narrative that vote fraud is rampant, that elections are stolen? This isn’t again, this predates Trump. This went on for a long time before Donald Trump. These practices of vote caging and purging the voter rolls, trying to do away with early voting and Sunday voting and I guess hearing things like 147 Republicans supporting Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. Republicans still polluting the water with claims that this election was not stolen or people are saying and so I’m saying that there was rampant fraud. It’s hard now to disentangle the move to suppress the vote from official GOP and certainly CPAC talking points that really, I think, cede this narrative that you need to do all these measures that you’re describing, because otherwise fraud is really rampant.

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S5: This is so interesting and it’s so confusing to people, because here I am saying that the elections are corrupted by gerrymandering, voter suppression and dark money. And the bill to correct the corruption is not supported by a single Republican in the House or Senate because these are sources of Republican power for the most powerful in the country. Meanwhile, the Republicans are saying, well, our best defense on this is a good offense will claim that the ballots are corrupted by people voting who have no right to vote. Illegal votes, invented votes, votes counted, twice of which you ask where is the evidence? And study after study shows there’s no evidence. But it is a very effective media campaign to justify voter suppression, to justify putting up obstacles and making it harder to go. All saying you’re seeking integrity when you’re really seeking to do is prevent your opposition from voting. Let’s recognize this has a deep, deep history in the United States. When the civil war ended and the 13th Amendment was adopted to end slavery. It suddenly created black political power in the south. And the response was, oh, my goodness, we have to stop blacks from voting. And there was a clause in the 13th Amendment to Slavery clause, which I’m seeking to get out of the 13th Amendment, which said that you can re enslave people if you arrest them and convict them. And so all these new laws were created, the crime of being black, the crime. And by that, it was a crime of talking too loud, of being unemployed, standing on a sidewalk, of not yielding passage way to to a white woman, so on and so forth. And this not only put people in prison stopping that, allowed them to be enslaved and rent it out as slaves. It also prevented them from from voting. And so then we we had that go right through. We had a reconstruction which pushed back against that and tried to protect the ability of black Americans to vote in the South. And then reconstruction was wiped out. And in eighteen seventy six by a political deal over presidential election. And the result was the crushing of the ability of black Americans to go to the ballot continued right on through the time I was born in this country where we had the Jim Crow laws and all kinds of suppression that didn’t didn’t start to be counted until we passed the Voting Rights Act of nineteen sixty five. So this this is a long history of political power. Those who are at the peak of the pyramid in America trying to keep the people from getting their fair share of national resources and programs on health care, on housing, on education, on living wage jobs, the four fundamentals of families to thrive, being crushed by the powerful, to have more money, more tax breaks for those who have the most.

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S1: I think it’s so important what you’re saying, because it’s hard to wrap your head and I’m sure people who are listening to us are trying to wrap their head around the fact that most Americans can hold two ideas in their heads, irreconcilable ideas in their heads at the same time. One is they really like the measures in your bill. We’ve seen, you know, the numbers are are staggering. Senator, I’m looking at polling data from data for progress. 67 percent of all voters support the for the People Act, a majority of Republicans, 60 percent of independents. This is not controversial. At the same time, voters really believe that there is rampant vote fraud, that people are voting three times and busloads of Canadians are being trucked across the border to vote illegally and that people are signing ballots as dead people. So what do we do? I guess what I’m asking you is in some sense, this is a communications problem. This is an information problem in a messaging problem almost as much as a constitutional problem.

S5: You’ve got it exactly right. Million Americans live in two different media bubbles, and I was struck when Trump was speaking to the secretary of state in Georgia, asking him to find more ballots to more lost votes to to to elect the president president as President Trump, the secretary of state, said to some of the claims that Trump was making. Mr. President, those aren’t right. You’re getting those on social media. And Trump responded, no, no, no, I’m not going on social media. I’m getting them off Trump media. Well, what is Trump media? Trump meeting is a collection of cable television and talk radio and social media networks and emails and mailings that come from the far right that create just this bubble that is saying here’s the message. And people have hearing the same message from the radio, from the television, from the social media, from their neighbors say, oh, that’s the story. That’s why this big lie that the election was stolen and that there are illegal voters continues is it’s very hard to break that media bubble. I go into a town hall and every county every year and most of my counties are red counties. And so I make sure I’ve been watching kind of entry into both media bubbles to understand what I’m about to be hearing from my constituents. And this is this is a powerful, challenging problem that we do not have an answer to in America. The president, with the bully pulpit has the best ability to permeate both bubbles. But even for a president United States, it’s hard it’s hard to get that media, that Trump bubble, that trump media to actually give fair voice to what a president is saying is as he or she tries to say, here’s the story, here’s the real evidence. As for the rest of us, it’s it’s almost impossible to promise.

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S1: And again, I want to just read something you’re saying, which is it’s not just the Trump bubble anymore, because when you have one hundred and forty seven Republicans, when you have Senator Hollowly, Senator Cruz saying that they, too, have deep anxiety that the election was conducted unfairly, it doesn’t matter that you take away Donald Trump’s bully pulpit because that message really is amplified exponentially. I mean, this is no longer just about what happened in the twenty 20 electoral contest for president. This is about going forward where again and again, the big lie, as you say, and you’ve been tweeting about this, is being repurposed over and over again to bolster things that have nothing to do with Trump anymore, everything to do with constricting the vote. So this, again, it transcends the Trump bubble.

S4: No, no, absolutely right. And people say, well, how are we going to fix this? And I must say that’s where we really don’t have an answer on how to fix this. The battle lines are deeply drawn. The media, the people listen to is their personal right to choose what they want. And Americans have chosen rural voters tend to choose one one bubble, the media bubble. And and then you have a much different cable and different sources of news that tend to dominate in urban areas, reinforcing this deep division. And so even though, as you point out in the polling, the majority of Republicans can support a bill, that doesn’t mean that is going to be bipartisan here in Congress. This is the this is the deep chiasm that has emerged between the parties where each side thinks it’s right and thinks the other side is evil. And it is very, very hard to resolve that division.

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S1: What do we do about the Senate? It’s clear, and I think you and I, you came on the podcast and we spoke in twenty eighteen about just how profoundly distorting the Senate has become in terms of just basic principles of majority rule, one person, one vote. And there is this paradox, right, where you are trying to bring forth legislation that is both wildly popular and preserving of just basic tenets of majority rule. It’s being already declared dead on arrival in a Senate that doesn’t function to represent the will of the majority. So I know you don’t have a good answer to this, but spitball with me beyond filibuster reform, what can we talk about in terms of imagining a Senate that actually was responsive to both covid relief, raising the minimum wage and simply making voting simpler?

S4: Well, they really handcuffed me when you set me on filibuster reform, because it is the is the big challenge. And when we say filibuster, we’re not talking about people standing and speaking at length. We’re talking about 60 votes to close debate. And Mitch McConnell wanting to prevent anything good being done for America while a Democrat is president. This was his organizing philosophy that brought him to be the leader of the Senate Republicans that brought him into power after Citizens United unleashed the hundreds of millions of dollars of TARP money. It’s a principle he lives by and he lives it every single day. Obstruct, delay, obstruct, delay. What can I stop today? What can I slow down today? Because the last thing he wants is for us to make things work better in America. Well, the Democrats are in charge and this is this is to me is profoundly unpatriotic. It is it is basically damaging American families in every way possible for the pursuit of power. I can’t think of anything worse than that for a public so-called public servant. So that’s the challenge. And there’s many there’s many paths to overcoming this when it comes to defending the Constitution. And one path is that we have the bill on the floor, the one for the people on the floor, and we say, hey, it’s going to be full opportunity to participate. Germane and relevant amendments, simple majority will legislate. But in exchange, you don’t exercise the veto, the 60 vote barrier, and we will get to a final vote. I don’t know what he really thinks that is possible, but but it’s one path, the another is to say this is so fundamentally important defending the Constitution that we should agree to carve this out from the McCardel veto. In the 70s, we’ve carved out attacking the deficit and special budget reconciliation. So a budget reconciliation process is a simple majority process designed to reduce the deficit. The Republicans then, when they were in power, corrupted that and said let’s use it to increase the deficit, to give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. So they have been determined to do carve outs for their top priority tax breaks money, raise the national treasury, give two trillion dollars, the richest Americans. That’s what they did in twenty seventeen. And so are we willing to carve it out? There’s other ways to go about this. There is get rid of the filibuster completely. There is the hey, up until the mid 70s, you pretty much had to carry on on the floor. A filibuster was a very public event. After a 1970s rule change, it meant that we have the silent no show filibusters, makes no effort to obstruct. Let’s restore the requirement that you have to show up and you have to speak. And so you can’t obstruct with without any effort which has led to massive obstruction. So we have to consider all the opportunities, including a heart to heart dialogue with our colleagues about making this place work again.

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S1: And I hope we can find a way and I want to stipulate I didn’t mean to handcuff you on filibuster reform. I just think we live in the world we live in. And it’s fairly clear, at least as of this taping, that Senator Manchin is not going to budge on this. And so I think I really appreciate that there are parliamentary and procedural and other measures that you’re describing to get some of this passed. I guess I do think there’s some inherent value. Maybe it goes back to your your bubbles framing, but there is some inherent value in talking about this. And I imagine part of why you’re out on the hustings fighting for this is to force Americans to reckon with something that seems we only think about it two weeks before every presidential election. We just don’t engage in questions about what happens with the census. What do we mean about redistricting? What are we talking about with gerrymandering? That all seems so wonky and abstract. And then two weeks before every presidential election, we all run around with our hair on fire saying the system is really our carrot cake and broken. I guess we want to ask you if and I’m in no way implying here, Senator, that this is doomed for failure because of the filibuster. But there is an inherent value in talking and talking and talking to Americans in the off season, as it were, about how close we came to losing democracy, because a lot of these systems of minority rule are really, really irrevocably broken unless we repair them. Right?

S4: Oh, it’s so it’s so true. And here’s an interesting exercise of take a look around the world at other republics that have reached our level of wealth inequality and see if they have found a way to start restoring a legal process that produces benefits for ordinary people rather than more breaks for the best of their words, more wealth inequality, more income inequality. I’ve had my team do this and we’ve been looking through history as well. And here’s the dismal fact. We are at a very high level of wealth inequality, and it’s hard to find a single example of a republic turning that around. And why is it is because of those things I was citing about the accumulated wealth being lawyers and lobbyists and media campaigns and elections and packing the courts all of all of that stuff together. Wouldn’t it be great if we could become the model for turning around? And the only pathway to doing so is to restore the voice of the people, protect the path to the ballot box? It is the single most powerful weapon against the concentration of power. It is the most feared situation from those who are powerful and wealthy. And that’s why they’re doing everything across America right now to try to obstruct participation by ordinary people.

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S1: Can you talk for one more minute about the anti-corruption piece of this? Because I think, again, it feels a little bit attenuated, probably for the average listener. You’ve made the point, I think, so forcefully about what dark money does and how it corrodes the messages we get. But I wonder if looking at the last four years, there’s any really concrete examples you can give us of things that would be remediated by this legislation that would really help do away with the sense that American voting is. Ultimately, just a function of sort of self dealing by the wealthiest one percent. What’s in here that would support that?

S4: Well, I think that in the two pieces that I’ll point to is, one, gerrymandering and so there that actually people choose a representative rather than their representatives choosing their electors, which which you can have states that, let’s say, are evenly split in terms of days and hours. But about two thirds of the seats go to one party in the state legislature or in the House of Representatives. So that that completely contaminates the idea of fair representation, equal representation. And in terms of the voter suppression side of this, you hear every day people know that on Election Day, precincts are easily manipulated. It’s easy to put out messages saying the votes taken place. It’s easy to change the location. It’s easier to make it a location is not easily accessible to party or has stairs to stop the disabled from getting there or who knows what. You can put very few voting places in in high population areas and lots of voting places in low population areas to bias the outcome. All these things are simply simply wrong in terms of the power of the people to be heard at the ballot. You can throw people off the voting rolls because you say, well, if you haven’t voted twice in the last four elections, we’re scrubbing the rolls, you have to reenroll. But nobody knows. They have to show up at the ballot place and they can they can’t vote. There’s also an ethics component to this this bill, and it says that of folks who are running for president or serving as president, they have to to get rid of their conflicts of interest, the types of conflicts of interest that were so troubling over the last four years in terms of family, corporations and benefits that flow. It provides for disclosure of your your tax returns so Americans can understand those those conflicts and diminish them. It provides for the first time a code of ethics to be developed for the Supreme Court, which has done some very members of the Supreme Court have done some very troubling things that suggest that they’re not unbiased when they wrestle with the constitutional provisions. So in all these ways, we’re giving the protecting the voice of America. We realize there’s two fundamental principles in the ballot box. One is the right of every American to participate in the direction of our country. That’s utterly at the heart of the vision of a republic. And the second is voter suppression has been the largest source of systemic racism in American history. So if you want to see fair opportunity for all, then you want to see fair access to the ballot box. We’ve had a year in which systemic racism has been much talked about. The sometimes we tend to forget that obstacles to the ballot are one of the biggest systemic reasons. So important what we’re protecting or fighting for, just fundamental issues of what it means to be the we the people republic, not a we, the powerful republic.

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S1: And I want to repeat again what I said when I introduced to you, which is Brennan Center reporting showing that just in two months we’ve seen two hundred and fifty three bills to restrict voting access in forty three states. That’s four times as many bills restricting the right to the ballot as were enacted in all of twenty twenty. So this is and the epicenter of that is Georgia, right where we saw just absolutely path breaking, organizing, showing up, standing in line. And so we know that this is causal and sort of sitting around and watching it play out really doesn’t redound to the benefit of the right to vote. I want to ask you, I think my penultimate question, but an important one, I don’t particularly want to engage in the point by point objections we’re hearing now to the legislation, largely because, as you say, much of it is Astroturf. Much of it is sort of dark, big money boilerplate. There is a complaint about the legislation that you’ve put forward suggesting that it’s somehow unconstitutional to do this at the federal level. And there was a vague op ed piece in The Wall Street Journal sort of implying that this is the province of the states and federalism concerns are raised and that there is no way in which it is an appropriate thing for the Senate to be doing this. Can you respond to that? Only because it sounds plausible?

S4: Absolutely. The Constitution says that the states can set the time and manner of elections and they have control over. Their own local elections, but when it comes to two congressional elections, the constitution is very clear that Congress can pass laws so in partnership with the president, can pass laws that set the parameters for federal elections. So that has been held up by the courts. It’s very clearly written in the Constitution. Do we do we have power over our county elections or hell city elections? No state legislative elections? No. But when it comes to congressional elections, the Constitution lays it straight out that this is a role for Congress in the.

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S1: My very last question is the one that is probably dearest to my heart, and I think you and I have talked about it before, and that is the courts, because, again, I think it’s easy to say this is we are saved. The courts effectively were the bulwark against tyranny. In the twenty twenty election, the courts really acted to the benefit of the country. Republicans, Democrats across the boards acquitted themselves so beautifully and in much the same way that it’s tempting to say, look, democracy survived puf it’s tempting to say the courts really showed up for voting. I think you and I probably agree that the courts are not part of the solution necessarily, at least as currently constituted, and that the Supreme Court has been. I mean, you’ve mentioned Citizens United. We’ve talked about Shelby County, the gerrymandering, where the court has said they’re staying out of political gerrymandering. The Supreme Court has been the cause of not the solution to a lot of the problems you and I have talked about here today. And I guess I know part of of what you’re aiming to do is think about how we do ethics reform and other things around the Article three judiciary. But I guess I want to ask you how you think about the problem of the court as it now exists is probably arrayed against the interests that you are trying to protect, basic one person, one vote. What do you think we can do, given that the courts are the courts? We got to dance with the courts that brought us in. The courts are not necessarily the 63 Roberts court right now is not necessarily on your side on so many of these initiatives.

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S5: No.

S4: And I can tell you, in the time I’ve been in the Senate, we’ve seen the Supreme Court become just completely a partisan political battle. We saw that one for the first time, the very first time in US history. A Senate refused to hold a debate and vote over a Supreme Court nominee that was a Supreme Court nominee. Merrick Garland by Obama and the Republicans who control the Senate could have said, we just want to have a debate and we’ll hold a vote. We may or may not confirm one out of four nominees in our history for the Supreme Court has not been confirmed, has been turned down by by the Senate. But instead, they said there’ll be no debate at all. There’ll be no vote at all because Merrick Garland was such a centrist that you had conservative senators who said things like, well, if only the nominee was Merrick Garland, then I could support Obama. And guess what? It was Merrick Garland. The so that stolen seat that was stolen for the Obama administration delivered the next administration, unprecedented in our history. It was just a statement about the determination of the Republican Party to bias the court. And so there we are with people across the country. They see that the court has become this this instrument. They kind of suspected it when the Supreme Court refused to allow a complete recount of Florida, when Bush was running against Al Gore and when Bush was ahead with a partial recount, the Supreme Court said, let’s stop the count right now while Bush is ahead. I thought that was an outrageous decision at the time, but but hoped it didn’t reflect an ongoing deep bias. But what we have seen with when Trump turned over the selection of nominees to the Federalist Society, which was formed explicitly to give corporate power to the courts instead of the vision of we the people, it’s a vision of whether we the powerful, which means antilabor, anti environmental, anti consumer and so forth. There is a case before them right now that involves us directly and involves two provisions in Arizona and voting rights. And one is is saying, hey, they have a provision that says that individuals can’t collect ballots and deliver them to the drop boxes. And the second provision says, say, if you cast your ballot at the wrong precinct, it’s disqualified. The reason these two things are up is they were recognized by Republicans as changes that sound neutral, but in fact really affect areas that are more Democratic, that you have older inner city folks without cars or need somebody to take their ballot and drop it off the ballot box and drop it off the mailbox, because mobility is just difficult. And you you certainly have in cities where the precinct places are moved often, often deliberately, to be confusing. So the church down the street you think is your precinct voting place. But it turns out that that line was actually moved and that’s where the next precinct. So these things were designed deliberately to bias the vote. In favor, Republicans against Democrats fancy term for it as disparate impact, and so the court has to consider now under this case that they’ve taken whether or not this can be struck down because they were designed to produce basically obstacles biasing the outcome of elections. And I’m afraid the court’s going to come down on the wrong side and say, no, it’s it’s OK that there’s they were done with with enough intent to protect integrity. And yet, how is integrity served by either of these? We do not have a problem with integrity in terms of people dropping off ballots for others. We’ve had vote by mail in Oregon for 20 years and it has been made you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than have somebody basically collect votes and steal them or destroy them. Very extraordinarily rare incidences where someone has forgotten to drop off a ballot. So it is that we’ll get a sense of whether this court is going to stand up for our Constitution or is once again, as in these other cases you cited, trying to undo that vision of government by and for the people. They would not take on gerrymandering, which is a major source violating the promise of equal representation, even though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found a way to take it on to to protect the people of Pennsylvania from from gerrymandering, they proceeded to destroy the nineteen sixty five Voting Rights Act that gutted it, which enabled many of these voter suppression laws to be enacted that we already see in place in the ongoing effort in so many states. And then they proceeded to say dark money that nobody knows where it comes from. Even money coming in from overseas is just fine. It’s rich and powerful money. We will give it a pass. And so they have really done a lot of damage to the vision of a republic and for the people.

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S1: And here’s where I have to have my reflexive take, where I say and we should talk about structural tort reform someday. But I want to end by saying Senator Jeff Merkley has served as the junior United States senator from Oregon since 2009, and he’s been a leading voice in this effort to restore the foundations of democratic governance by taking on these issues of vote suppression, dark money gerrymandering. Senator Merkley, before I say goodbye, I want you to tell these people who are listening to you and maybe feeling a little dispirited what is the thing they can do?

S4: What is one thing they can do tonight, the night you need to call your your members of the House and Senate, particularly your Senate members, and say you have a responsibility to defend the Constitution. You took an oath to the Constitution. If if we allow if we don’t pass this one and we allow all these voter suppression tactics to be implemented in states across this country, particularly swing states, we are going to see our government being by and for the powerful for a generation to come. So this is a moment when we have this slim 50 50 majority and that’s where we’re hanging on over the cliff and hanging onto that road that we’re just barely hanging on to the possibility we haven’t climbed back up into safe territory yet. The way to climb back up into much greater territory is pass bills that protect access to the ballot, that end gerrymandering, that end dark money that restore faith in the fairness of our elections across this land and give back the voice to the people.

S1: Senator Merkley, thank you so very much for all of your work, making sure that our children’s children have one person, one vote to thank you for being with us.

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S3: That is a wrap for this bonus episode of Amicus, sort of kind of live from sort of kind of south by Southwest. Thank you so much for listening in. Thank you so, so much for being a slate plus member. We appreciate you. Your support is so vital now more than ever. You can always keep in touch with the show by email at Amica since late dotcom. Or you can find us at Facebook dot com slash amicus podcast. Today’s show was produced by Sara burning him with thanks to South by Southwest. Gabriel Roth is editorial director. Alicia Montgomery is executive producer. June Thomas is senior managing producer of Slate podcasts. We’ll be back with another episode of Amicus in just over a week.