Supreme Court: Campaign-finance limits violate free speech
The Supreme Court campaign finance ruling on Thursday means corporations can spend freely on political ads leading up to elections. The Thursday decision invalidates a part of 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform law that sought to limit corporate influence.
(Page 3 of 3)
The major shift in the high court’s campaign-finance jurisprudence was made possible by the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor a few years ago and the arrival of her replacement, Justice Alito. The decision also represents a move by Chief Justice Roberts away from a middle-ground compromise he attempted to broker in a prior campaign finance case. Instead, he has now apparently moved toward a broader accord with the high court’s conservative wing on campaign finance issues.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The chief justice addressed this shift in a concurring opinion joined by Alito. During his confirmation hearing, Roberts told the Senate in often quoted remarks that he would be a judicial minimalist who would follow the rule that "if it is not necessary to decide more, it is necessary not to decide more."
But this case was different, the chief justice wrote in his concurrence. It required a broad ruling, he said. “There is a difference between judicial restraint and judicial abdication,” he added.
Previous Supreme Court ruling invalidated
In reaching its decision, the court invalidated a 1990 Supreme Court ruling, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which first established the legal approach adopted in Section 203 of BCRA. The Austin decision justified restrictions on corporate expenditures to prevent wealthy special interests from distorting the campaign playing field and dominating the marketplace of ideas.
The majority justices said the government restrictions interfered with the open marketplace of ideas rather than protected it. “By suppressing the speech of manifold corporations, both for-profit and non-profit, the government prevents their voices and viewpoints from reaching the public,” Kennedy wrote.
“When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful,” Kennedy wrote. “The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”
Role of 'Hillary: The Movie'
The decision comes in a case called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case involved a decision by the FEC to block video-on-demand broadcasts of a 90-minute documentary attacking the potential presidential candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The film, “Hillary: The Movie,” was produced by Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit corporation. The group complained that the FEC action was unconstitutional censorship of political speech.
The agency responded that the documentary was similar to a pre-election broadcast attack advertisement and thus could be regulated by the FEC under BCRA.
Citizens United filed suit, arguing before a three-judge panel that the McCain-Feingold law was unconstitutional in the way it was being enforced by the FEC against “Hillary: The Movie.”
The panel disagreed. It ruled that the documentary was the functional equivalent of electioneering and that Citizens United must disclose the documentary’s financial supporters if it wanted to run broadcast ads during election season.
In its ruling on Thursday, the high court upheld the lower court’s ruling on the disclosure issue but reversed on the constitutional challenge.
[Editor's note: The photo caption was revised to correctly identify the people in the picture.]
Follow us on Twitter.