Rep. Van Hollen: Justice Thomas and Sen. McConnell are ‘Way Outside the Mainstream’

By Elizabeth Harrington | July 15, 2012 | 5:45 PM EDT

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. (AP photo)

( – Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) claims Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas are “way outside the mainstream” for saying that the 2010 Citizens United ruling did not go far enough to protect First Amendment rights.

Van Hollen accompanied House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during a press conference on Capitol Hill last week to highlight the DISCLOSE Act, which would require the disclosure of names and addresses of donors who contribute more than $10,000 in political contributions.

The Maryland Democrat lambasted McConnell, who has pledged to filibuster the Senate version of the bill when it comes up for a vote Monday, out of concern that “selective disclosure would be used to harass people” -- a point made by Justice Thomas in his sole partial dissent in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case.

“[McConnell] is now taking the position that Justice Thomas took,” Van Hollen said on Thursday. “In fact, in his speech the other day at AEI [the American Enterprise Institute] he quoted Justice Thomas, which puts Mitch McConnell, you know, way outside the mainstream here.”

Van Hollen added. “You had every other Supreme Court justice, as I say, not only saying this was constitutional but saying that this was important to the health of our democracy,”

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In its 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that political spending is a form of protected free speech, removing limits on how much donors could give to independent political organizations set by the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

Since the decision, Democrats in Congress have argued that the ruling has led to an influx of “Big Money” into campaigns, as Pelosi described it Thursday.

Justice Thomas dissented in part from the ruling that found disclosure requirements constitutional. He said, “The Court’s constitutional analysis does not go far enough.”

Thomas cited intimidation tactics in California during the battle over Proposition 8 in 2008, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Donations of over $100 to support the ballot initiative required disclosure of the person’s “full name, address, occupation, employer’s name (or business name, if self-employed), and the total amount of his contribution,” Thomas wrote.

FILE - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Ky., outside the Senate, on Monday, July 2, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In his dissent, Thomas cited incidents where supporters of Prop 8 received death threats and property damage as a result of their disclosure.

“The success of such intimidation tactics has apparently spawned a cottage industry that uses forcibly disclosed donor information to pre-empt citizens’ exercise of their First Amendment rights,” Thomas concluded.

In an editorial published in USA Today last week, McConnell called the Disclose Act “un-American,” and echoed Thomas in his reasoning.

“I support the First Amendment rights of those on the political left and right,” McConnell said. “My concern is that selective disclosure would be used to harass people -- think President Nixon and his ‘enemies list’ -- who have participated in the political process or scare others from doing so.”

“I cannot support limiting the right of Americans to speak up,” he said.

The DISCLOSE Act is expected to come up for a vote on Monday.