Rhode Island Democrat Whitehouse made a huge media splash at last week’s Barrett hearings. He gave a polemical speech on the dangers of the dark money that has flooded into American politics since the nation’s highest court struck down campaign finance limits.

This has led to so-called dark money--where voters don’t know the source of campaign contributions- financing campaigns.

Why is this a big deal, you ask? Haven’t the wealthy, big corporations and entrenched interests always held outsized influence in elections?

 Over the years, both Democrats and Republicans have relied on the rich to finance the television ads, pollsters and voter turn-out efforts that win elections. Yet, there was a time when we knew the origins of this money. Big business tended to back Republicans, while labor unions supported Democrats.

It's one thing to try to influence voters and quite another to have millions of anonymous dollars dedicated to advance nominees to the federal courts, and particularly the Supreme Court. There was a time when Supreme Court candidates weren’t boosted or attacked on television. That’s history.

Whitehouse and other Democrats have long lamented the Citizens United decision. It’s an arcane subject that doesn’t resonate with many voters. Most of us didn’t go to law school. 

Whitehouse used the nationally televised hearing to highlight the millions in dark money that have gone into financing lawsuits and picking judges. The result has been a swamp of 5-4 Supreme Court decisions that have favored business interests designed to attack government regulations, such as pollution controls.

Both Democrats and Republicans accuse each other of supporting judges who legislate from the bench. Democrats rue decisions that have hurt organized labor and environmental laws. Republicans and social conservatives say high court decisions legalizing abortion and gay marriage bypassed the will of most voters.

But Whitehouse shows that under Chief Justice John Roberts, eighty cases have been decided by 5 to 4 decisions --the bare majority. Whitehouse asserts in all of those cases there were large undisclosed donors behind the lawsuits.

The blowback from Whitehouse’s speech was quick --and predictable. Democrats hailed it, while Republicans blasted it. Conservatives noted that abortion rights have survived the Roberts court. And, correctly, Republicans noted that Roberts upheld Obamacare on a 5-4 tally.

Now, President Trump has nominated Barrett, a conservative whose confirmation would swing the court to a 6 to 3 conservative-liberal divide. There are contentious cases headed to the court in the next few weeks, including Obamacare again and, of course, abortion restrictions. Barrett dodged questions on her legal philosophy with the deftness of a hockey goalie sweeping away pucks.

Despite the upcoming presidential election, her confirmation appears to be a slam-dunk, as Republicans control the Senate. And Trump has been forthright in what he wants --a repeal of Obamacare and a sympathetic judge in case of legal challenges to the election --which he has warned without evidence will be fraudulent.

Does anyone think the founders envisioned a Supreme Court where members were merely partisans resembling senators with lifetime appointments?

Whitehouse is obviously a partisan Democrat. Yet, his critique is worth pondering. If the Supreme Court makes all the big decisions affecting the country, we are diminishing the role of Congress, which is chosen by the people.

Barrett is young enough that she could be on the high court for the next half-century. Her confirmation is being rushed through just weeks before a historic election. Whitehouse has opened a conversation that’s worth having. He also said in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post that Barrett should recuse herself from any presidential election disputes. The last thing our divided democracy needs is a replay of the 2000 Gore versus Bush case. Voters, not judges, must decide the presidency.

Maybe it’s time to sandpaper down the partisanship and revert to the old standard of requiring sixty votes to confirm a high court justice.