Today, the Supreme Court reversed a ruling by Montana Supreme Court’s ruling that Citizens United does not apply to it’s state election. A dissenting opinion observed what we all know to be true, writing, “technically independent expenditures can be corrupting in much the same way as direct contributions.”
Montana’s Supreme Court had earlier ruled that Citizens United does not apply in state elections. This was considered an opportunity for the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling on Citizens United. Perhaps predictably, the court was split 5-4 along party line in America Tradition Partnership v. Montana as was the case in Citizens United. The Majority opinion, was brief and to the point.
“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. Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case. “
Not surprisingly, a minority opinion, written by Justice Breyer, re-stated the very concerns that have been realized in this post Citizens United political environment:
“I disagree with the Court’s hold-ing 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.” Id., at ___ (slip op., at67-68). 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.”
The majority of Americans perceive the Supreme Court as politicized. This ruling does nothing to dispel that perception.
By reaffirming Citizens United, the Roberts wing of the Supreme Court, the Koch Brothers and the Sheldon Aldensons of America will continue to flood hundreds of millions of dollars to those the Republican Party. Whether our political system can endure such an assault, remains to be seen.
In reality, however, this decision did more than that. It basically cut at the core of another value, Republicans like to pretend they believe in: states’ rights. The Montana Supreme Court acknowledged and respected, albeit with disagreement, the applicability of Citizens’ United in Federal elections.
However, having seen what unfettered corporate spending had done in their state elections, Montana had a common sense basis to place limits on corporate influence over the political process.
This does mean we’re stuck with Citizens United. The only conceivable option left is a constitutional amendment, which won’t be happening anytime soon, in spite of the fact that it’s become clear that “[m]any corporate independent expenditures . . . had become essentially interchangeable with direct contributions in their capacity to generate quid pro quo arrangements.”
Image from Kiko’s House