SCOTUS Kills Citizens United Challenge

In a one page, per curium decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Montana’s century-old limits on corporate political spending because it conflicts with the court’s earlier decision in Citizens United. From the order:

There can be no serious doubt that it does. Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.

Those may come to be two of the most significant sentences issued by the Court this term.

The possible challenge to Citizens United failed to garner much media attention, likely because it was a request to have the court hear a challenge that was done without briefing or argument, and that makes the fact that the court also summarily reversed the Montana Supreme Court here troubling. That’s the point made in the dissent.

Dissenting, Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan adopted the dissent of Justice Stevens in the Citizens United case and explained further the problematic divide on the court when it comes to the problem of money in politics. The dissent, in its entirety:

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court concluded that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”  I disagree with the Court’s holding for the reasons expressed in Justice Stevens’ dissent in that case. As Justice Stevens explained, “technically independent expenditures can be corrupting in much the same way as direct contributions.” Indeed, Justice Stevens recounted a “substantial body of evidence” suggesting that “[m]any corporate independent expenditures . . . had become essentially interchangeable with direct contributions in their capacity to generate quid pro quo arrangements.”

Moreover, even if I were to accept Citizens United, this Court’s legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court’s finding, made on the record before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana. Given the history and political landscape in Montana, that court concluded that the State had a compelling interest in limiting independent expenditures by corporations.

Thus, Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.

Were the matter up to me, I would vote to grant the petition for certiorari in order to reconsider Citizens United or, at least, its application in this case. But given the Court’s per curiam disposition, I do not see a significant possibility of reconsideration. Consequently, I vote instead to deny the petition.

The immediate impact of this decision cannot be overstated. There was at least an arguable case to make that the holding of Citizens United did not extend to the state and local elections. It is nearly impossible to make that argument now. So that means we can expect a flood of corporate dollars into all state and local races and a similar flood of legal challenges to state laws banning or curbing such donations.

Big money in politics is here to stay.


Photo from 401K 2012 via flickr.


Alberto Gtz.
Alberto G.4 years ago

Two secret new global pacts -- the TPP and TTIP -- could massively increase the power of corporations to sue our governments
Check this:

Frances C.
Frances C5 years ago

This tea party Republican wing of the Supreme Court is wrong again. This shows their pure partisanship. Their best friends are the large corporations and other wealthy people. They don't know that the middle class and the poor exist.

Luvenia V.
Luvenia V5 years ago

How does it feel to know the highest court in the land can commit treason and there is NO one we can turn to that will prosecute???

Treason: 1. Betrayal of country.. A violation of the allegiance owed by somebody to his or her own country, e.g. by aiding an enemy.

2. Treachery.. Betrayal or disloyalty

Jo Anne Pyne
Jo Anne Pyne5 years ago

I think it's time we "killed" the SCOTUS! They're not doing what they're supposed to be doing. They've become much too political. Is that what was meant when they were established? I think not.

Leslea Herber
Leslea Herber5 years ago

Any bet a forensic audit of each of the "justices" (and I use that term with much snark), have a vested interest & payoffs from corporations to keep this stupid crap in place?

joanna e.
joanna e5 years ago

It is said that Pres Obama and the Democrats are dividing this country...come on !
From ordinary laws up to the Supreme Court the Republicans are making us the country of Rich and Poor.
Where has the ability to stop monopolies gone? More and more the very rich own this land.
The present Supreme Court could care less what the people of this country think or want.

Steve R.
Steve R5 years ago

Oh dear - not good news for Obama....

I have already had an email from the spender-in-chief this morning, asking me for money, because he's worried that he's going to be outspent.

He says it will be the first time ever that an incumbent president will be outspent!

What's up chief - the private sector not doing so fine after all?

John B.
John B5 years ago

There is nothing Supreme about this court it carries a name but does nothing to represent the American people through the guiding principles of the Constitution. They may understand law but they cannot understand the basic philosophy behind the Constitution and they lack an understanding of basic humanity. Those who voted for "Citizens United" (I believe they are united to destroy the US) have no understanding of the basic ideas of a corporation. A corporation is an artificial entity that is given certain rights. It may have an identity but it is not alive. It's life is wholly artificial.
They possibly struck down Montana because they did not like the state that killed off their operating precedent.

Patricia A.
Patricia A5 years ago

Money is the appropriate picture for this article!

Margaret S.

Since money is free speech, make it speak on our behalf. The idea is not mine, but I am using it daily: take a pen, or permanent marker (sharpie?) and WRITE on every banknote you can get your hands on. I write: "this banknote is not to be used to bribe politicians", "supreme justice can be purchased for a price", and "buy democracy". Come up with different ones, and make your money shout.