Unconstitutional 'Bill of Attainder' to be legally challenged, but was it also an example of class warfare?
By Ernest A. Canning on 11/16/2009, 9:35am PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

On Nov. 12, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging that separate House and Senate Resolutions to bar all funds to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) were unconstitutional Bills of Attainder, which violated ACORN's Fifth Amendment right to due process of law and First Amendment right to freedom of association. (See Rachel Maddow's excellent coverage and explanation of a "Bill of Attainder" here.)

The CCR suit "seeks a temporary restraining order to prevent the government from reallocating funds designated for the organization and its affiliates and a preliminary injunction to stop Congress from singling out a single organization for punishment without proper investigation or due process."

During his Nov. 13 appearance on Democracy Now, CCR Attorney Bill Quigley (video below) warned that if constitutionality of the legislation is not legally challenged, ACORN could be but the first of numerous groups seen as supportive of Democrats whose funding will be challenged, as that rightwing blogs are already looking to target the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as well.

While the suit presents a significant legal challenge, and while there is little doubt that ACORN has been the victim of a GOP witch hunt which, as Brad Friedman and others have reported, included the "phony 'voter fraud' charges" that were at the "heart of the U.S. Attorney purge scandal," the willingness of so many Congressional Democrats to jump at the chance to punish ACORN via this Bill of Attainder may also entail something more subtly insidious...

Appearing on Democracy Now in the wake of an 83-to-7 Senate vote to bar the group from receiving any federal funds from the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, ACORN's CEO, Bertha Lewis, revealed that the video, which depicted a handful of ACORN's 700 employees giving advice to two rightwing activists dressed as a pimp and a prostitute, was but the latest in a series of Republican efforts to smear the organization, and that past efforts, such as other alleging voter fraud, failed "because all of those people...were turned in by us."

Lewis noted that the rightwing "sting" videos were presented out of context; that the rightwing group engaged in the sting had not only been asked to leave several ACORN offices but that, in several instances, the police had to be called to force them to leave.

None of this was considered before Congress acted to bar funds to an entire organization for the inappropriate, if not particularly illegal, remarks of a few employees. That's because, despite an awareness of the Republican's near continuous partisan assault on ACORN, Democrats in Congress did not bother to hold hearings before rushing to judgment.

By contrast, as Brad Friedman previously reported, citing Jeremy Scahill's piece in The Nation, the top 100 government contractors, who made "nearly $300 billion from federal contracts in 2007 alone" paid some "$26 billion in fines to settle cases stemming from fraud, waste or abuse;" KBR was not merely been charged with such abuse but with poisoning as many as 100,000 people, including U.S. troops, yet these same Democratic members of Congress who defunded ACORN have ignored a bill [PDF] offered by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) which would prohibit "the Federal Government from awarding contracts, grants, or other agreements to, providing any other Federal funds to, or engaging in activities that promote certain corporations or companies guilty of certain felony convictions."

(Note: Unlike the measures used to defund ACORN, McCullum's bill would not amount to a "Bill of Attainder" because it does not single-out one group for punishment, but instead applies across-the-board to all corporations which are "convicted" of the specified felonies.)

So why the rush to judgment by Congressional Democrats? Was it a case of Democrats simply rolling over in the face of another rightwing onslaught?

During the above-cited appearance on Democracy Now, Ms. Lewis explained what ACORN does besides voter registration:

We are the largest membership-based community organization of low- and moderate-income people of color, black and brown folks, in this country. We have been around for forty years. We’ve saved thousands of homes. We’ve helped raise the wages of tens of thousands and now hundreds of thousands of people.

CCR's fact sheet [PDF] notes that ACORN:

• Raised the minimum wage to a living wage in dozens of communities across the country;

• Fought predatory lending and to stop foreclosures.

Thus, while ACORN may help register millions of voters who predominantly vote for Democrats, ACORN also shields those same voters from the excesses carried out by the true constituency of the corporate sector of the Democratic Party --- banks, Wall Street, corporate America.

ACORN's constituency has little in common with many of the members of Congress their registration drives have helped to elect.

As Jim Hightower observed in Thieves in High Places less than one percent of U.S. citizens are millionaires. Nearly half the members of Congress elected in 2002 were millionaires. As Hightower notes:

Congress's real constituency is no longer you and me, but the people who 'matter.' These are your 'top-floor corporate executives...who have full-time lobbyists and who make $1,000-and-higher campaign donations...that grease the wheels of the incumbency. They are the privileged few who know members by their first names, who get every one of their phone calls returned--and who get their agendas adopted."

A more recent study by the Center for Responsive Politics revealed that, at present, 237 members of Congress are millionaires.

In "Nader was Right: Liberals are Going Nowhere with Obama," Chris Hedges observed at TruthDig:

It is the same old merry-go-round, only with Obama branding. And if we have not learned by now that the system is broken, that as citizens we do not matter to our political elite, that we live in a corporate state where our welfare and our interests are irrelevant, we are in serious trouble.

We have experienced repeated examples --- the Wall Street bailout, an inadequate stimulus, health care legislation designed to extend more money and more power to the insurance cartel and pharmaceutical industries accompanied by the elimination of the "Kucinich Amendment" which would have permitted states and their citizens to adopt single-payer legislation if they so choose; endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the benefit of the military-industrial complex, which now includes well-paid, allegedly murderous mercenaries like Blackwater/Xe.

While the desire to deflect criticism from the rightwing echo chamber helps to explain the occasions in which the Democratic leadership willingly abandons long-time allies, as occurred when candidate Obama threw Reverend Wright under the bus or when the President stood by silently in the face of the McCarthy-like assault on Van Jones, class as well as cowardice may help to explain the willingness of so many corporate Congressional Democrats to slam ACORN with an unconstitutional Bill of Attainder. Their actions are consistent with what Noam Chomsky describes as an "elite consensus;" as an extension of the class war that the wealthy in this nation have waged against working class Americans over the past forty years.

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On 11/12/09, the day CCR's ACORN lawsuit was filed, CCR's Executive Director Vince Warren discussed the suit on Angie Coiro's Live From the Left Coast. The audio, appx. 16 minutes, can be heard here...

And here is the 11/13/09 appearance by CCR's attorney Bill Quigley on Democracy Now...


Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).

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