COLUMBIA, S.C. – U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia has a simple solution for people who don't like all the political advertisements unleashed by the court's decision two years ago that ended limits on corporate contributions in political campaigns -- change the channel or turn off the TV.
Scalia was asked about the decision during a presentation before the South Carolina Bar on Saturday, exactly two years after the court handed down the 5-4 decision in the case that led to the rise of Super PACs. They are outside groups affiliated with candidates that can take in unlimited contributions as long as they don't directly coordinate with the candidate.
"I don't care who is doing the speech -- the more the merrier," Scalia said. "People are not stupid. If they don't like it, they'll shut it off."
Scalia was joined on stage by Justice Stephen Breyer, who voted on the losing side in the decision which has become known as "Citizens United," for the group that successfully sued over federal campaign finance laws. Breyer didn't directly criticize the ruling, instead pointing out how it is critical in the American system that people respect the decisions the judiciary makes.
By nature, when a decision isn't unanimous, "somebody is making a mistake," Breyer said.
Breyer also briefly summarized both sides of the argument concentrating on his own.
"There are real problems when people want to spend lots of money on a candidate ... they'll drown out the people who don't have a lot of money," Breyer said.
Money flooding political races was a consequence predicted as soon as the decision was handed down in January 2010.
And so far, it's true. Super PACs have raised more than $30 million just three races into the 2012 presidential race, according to the website opensecrets.org, run by The Center for Responsive Politics. TV advertising alone in South Carolina, which is voting Saturday, is estimated at $12 million, or nearly $27 per voter when calculated using the 2008 Republican primary turnout numbers.
Even U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham poked jabs at the amazing amount of campaign ads on television as he introduced the justices.
"I miss seeing car ads," said Graham, R-S.C.
Scalia said the blame for this type of system shouldn't fall on the Supreme Court, which he said decides merely whether the system is legal under the U.S. Constitution. Instead, he said the ones who have to change things are the politicians who created the system and the voters who often reward the candidates who spend the most money.
"If the system seems crazy to you, don't blame it on the court," Scalia said, during a discussion in front of South Carolina lawyers that lasted for more than an hour.
Both justices refused to talk in detail about the health care legislation case the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear later this year.
Scalia spent more than 10 minutes lamenting the way confirmation hearings for new justices are now held in the U.S. Senate. He said lawmakers are now more concerned with making sure a prospective member of the court will interpret the Constitution they want, instead of the way the founding fathers wrote it.
"It's like conducting a mini constitutional convention every time you pick a justice," Scalia said.
Breyer said it's important for judges to take a flexible view of the Constitution. He said that, depending on a judge's interpretation, the clause allowing everyone equal rights under the law in the 14th Amendment meant making sure someone had the right to a lawyer, or the right to not be forced to give incriminating statements, or even the right to abortion or the right to choose to die when one wants.
"They look at those words and they say they apply to their cases too," Breyer said.