The corporate conservative majority on the Supreme Court was at it again on Monday. By its customary 5 to 4 vote, the court threw out a Montana law that had been on the books since 1912, banning corporate spending on elections. Naturally, the court’s conservatives believe their judgment in the Citizens United case is so much more refined and intelligent than the judgment of the good people of Montana.
Will everyone please finally admit that conservatives actually don’t care a whit about states’ rights unless invoking states’ rights happens to be helpful to the conservative agenda? Conservatives on the court have become complete and utter hypocrites on the matter of what states can and can’t do.
This has stuck in my craw for a long time. Recall that the Supreme Court had absolutely no qualms about telling the state of Florida in 2000 that there was no way it could recount its votes in a fashion that would be satisfactory, and never mind that the Florida Supreme Court had ruled in favor of recounts. Those recounts might have gotten in the way of George W. Bush’s elevation to the presidency. Face it: If states’ rights are inconvenient to the outcome conservatives want, conservative justices will find a way to supersede them.
I did like Justice Stephen Breyer’s brief but in-their-face dissent. He noted that, while the Citizens United majority had found no danger of corruption from supersize campaign contributions by corporations, the Montana Supreme Court — relying on a history of corruption in the state during the Gilded Age — had reached the opposite conclusion. “Given the history and political landscape in Montana,” Breyer wrote, speaking for himself and the other three dissenters, the state 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.”
Relying on practical local experience is something conservatives traditionally recommend. But this radical court wants to substitute its own theories for 100 years of practice.
It was a Supreme Court nominee named John Roberts who said during his confirmation hearings that the court should be wary of overturning precedent and should pay attention to factors “like settled expectations, like the legitimacy of the court, like whether a particular precedent is workable or not, whether a precedent has been eroded by subsequent developments.”
Montana had “settled expectations” that the state’s “workable” 1912 system of campaign finance law would remain on the books. It’s a shame that the current Chief Justice Roberts has so little in common with the John Roberts who testified before the Senate.