Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine, wrote on his election law blog that the outcome of the Montana case is actually a “relative victory for campaign-finance reformers” because the five-justice majority shows no signs of budging on Citizens United. “Taking the case would have made things so much worse,” Hasen wrote.
The five justices who made up the majority in Citizens United have consistently held that many legislative attempts to control the influence of money in politics run afoul of constitutional guarantees of free speech. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the Citizens United decision and is often the deciding vote when the court splits ideologically, is a leader on that issue.
Besides lifting the ban on corporate and union expenditures, a lower court and the FEC have interpreted the Citizens United ruling to mean that unlimited individual contributions must be allowed, clearing the way for “super PACs,” which are fundraising groups closely identified with candidates but technically independent.
The presidential campaign has seen an unprecedented explosion of spending by wealthy individuals, many making multimillion-dollar contributions on behalf of their favored candidates. Obama and other Democrats have pushed without success for new disclosure rules and other measures in response.
The political committee and corporation that challenged the Montana law argued that the Supreme Court should simply overturn the state court’s 5-to-2 decision, which acknowledged the apparent conflict with the Citizens United ruling.
Wrote one dissenting Montana justice, “When the highest court in the country has spoken clearly on a matter of federal constitutional law . . . this court is not at liberty to disregard or parse that decision in order to uphold a state law that, while politically popular, is clearly at odds with the Supreme Court’s decision.”
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock told the court that states should have leeway in unique situations to regulate spending by corporate interests.
“It is a sad day for our democracy and for those of us who still want to believe that the United States Supreme Court is anything more than another political body in Washington, D.C.,” he said in a statement Monday.
The case is
American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock