Another victory for free speech
Among the opinions issued by the Supreme Court on Monday was the decision in American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, which overturns a Montana law that barred corporations from participating in elections in the state:
The Supreme Court on Monday reaffirmed the right of corporations to make independent political expenditures, summarily overturning a 100-year-old Montana state law that barred corporations from such political activity.
The justices ruled in an unsigned opinion that Montana’s law was in conflict with the court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which shifted the campaign finance landscape, opening the door to the massive political expenditures that have been shaping this year’s presidential race. The decision was 5-4, split along ideological lines.
Despite the Citizens United decision, the Montana Supreme Court had refused to strike down the state’s ban on election spending by corporations. Its judges cited Montana’s history of “copper kings” who bribed legislators. Advocates of campaign finance reform had hoped that the current wave of election-related spending would help make their case for the need to reconsider Citizens United.
Still, it was considered highly unlikely that the court, in its current configuration, would reverse itself on such a recent ruling.
The court issued a summary reversal without waiting to hear oral arguments in the case.
Over at the Cato Institute, John Samples explains the decision:
The five justices who decided Citizens United also decided this case. The four dissenters included Justice Stevens’ replacement, Justice Kagan. The majority found the case to be uncomplicated:
The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does. See U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2.
They refer to the Supremacy Clause: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”
If judges in every state are bound by the Constitution and thus, the First Amendment, didn’t the Montana judges act contrary to their constitutional obligations?
The dissenters disagree with Citizens United and would have overturned it or allowed Montana to violate the First Amendment.
The party of government has long believed in the supremacy of the Supremacy Clause. For them moral progress is measured by increases in the scope and power of those who reside inside the Beltway. The four dissenters have found an exception to such centralization. No doubt their turnaround depends on new research into the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.
As one can imagine, populists are outraged. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) has already called for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United decision, which protects corporations — a group of individuals — that wish to engage in the political process.
Like it or not, this is an issue of free speech. It doesn’t matter if it’s one person standing on the corner railing about some issue or a group of individuals that have formed a corporation or a labor union out of some common interest. The First Amendment is clear that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Those protections, through incorporation, also apply to the states.
You can learn more about Citizens United below: