the corporations said the Montana ban was in violation of their rights, as determined by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which asserts that Corporations have same speech rights as people.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider taking another bite of the corporate political free speech apple recently, accepting a petition asking justices to summarily overturn a Montana Supreme Court decision petitioners [2 Montana corporations] say flies in the face of Citizens United.
In upholding a ban on corporate independent expenditures in state elections, the Montana justices determined that “unlike Citizens United, this case concerns Montana law, Montana elections and it arises from Montana history.”
That ruling, the petition said, raises the question for the U.S. Supreme Court to consider: “Whether Montana is bound by the holding of Citizens United, that a ban on corporate independent political expenditures is a violation of the First Amendment, when the ban applies to state, rather than federal, elections.”
Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission is the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision two years ago that effectively ended the restrictions on political contributions from the general funds of corporations and unions.
In March, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer argued the Montana case would give the Supreme Court a chance to rethink Citizens United.
“A petition for certiorari will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway,” the statement said.
Ginsburg and Breyer said in their statement lower courts were still bound by the 2010 ruling that freed corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they wished on campaigns if they did so independently of candidates. The court put on hold the state court ruling upholding a Montana law similar to the federal law nullified in Citizens United, at least until an appeal is decided.
Most of the money spent in this election cycle is by the so-called “Super PACs,” political action committees formed to make independent expenditures promoting or opposing a certain candidate and that have gained great traction and appeal since Citizen United was handed down.
In their petition, the corporations said the Montana decision was in conflict with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United holding that corporations could not be banned from doing core political speech and the Court’s reasoning that the independence of such speech (through super PACs [theoretically uncoordinated with the campaign/candidate]) eliminated risk of corrupting candidates.
A lower court in Montana relied on Citizens United in declaring the Corrupt Practices Act unconstitutional, but the state’s Supreme Court overturned that decision Dec. 30, ruling the U.S. Supreme Court campaign spending decision didn’t conflict with the state’s law because it was federal, not state.
“Citizens United corrupts our democratic process,” said Jim Dean, the organization’s chairman. “This campaign, courageously headed by Montana’s Attorney General Steve Bullock, demands that the Supreme Court address [its] decision that allowed undisclosed amounts of money to flow into our electoral process. Corporations are not people and ordinary citizens should not be drowned out of democracy.”
Adam Skaggs, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law, also argued for the Supreme Court to uphold Montana’s ban, saying the matter before it gives the justices a chance to review the “real-world consequences” of Citizens United and “the devastating effect it has had on our democracy,” Legal Newsline said.
“The Montana Supreme Court was right to uphold the state’s law banning corporate money in elections. The state’s experience with corruption, and the flood of super PAC spending today, makes clear that corporate spending in elections can give rise to the appearance and reality of corruption,” Skaggs said in a statement.
However, the petitioners said Citizens United hasn’t been burdensome.
[…]President Obama‘s comment[ed] during the 2010 State of the Union address, “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.”
More recently, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., … predicted “major scandals” would be the result of the more prominent role of super PACS that Citizen United allowed to foster, The Hill reported.