Is new Supreme Court ruling a retreat from Citizens United?
The Supreme Court upheld Monday a long-established provision of campaign finance law that seeks to prevent foreign interests from influencing domestic politics.
The US Supreme Court on Monday summarily affirmed a lower court decision upholding a congressional ban on foreign nationals spending money to influence the outcome of American elections.Skip to next paragraph
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The action upholds a long-established provision of campaign finance law that seeks to prevent foreign interests from influencing domestic politics.
And it signals a possible retreat – in a presidential election year – from the expansive free speech principles championed by the high court in its controversial 2010 decision, Citizens United v. FEC.
At issue in Bluman v. FEC (11-275) was whether the First Amendment protects a free speech right of foreign individuals in the US to spend money supporting or opposing a particular candidate or political issue.
The Bluman case was viewed as a potential sequel to the Citizens United decision. In that case the justices invalidated a congressional ban on corporate and labor union spending for election-related advertisements and other communications.
The high court ruled 5-4 that corporations and labor unions enjoy a First Amendment right to spend their money to run independent advertisements supporting a favored issue or candidate during election season.
The Bluman case raised a similar First Amendment issue. The case sought to extend the same free speech principles to campaign finance laws blocking election contributions and expenditures by foreign residents in the US.
The high court was apparently uninterested in examining the issue in greater detail. Instead, the justices delivered a four-word opinion: “The judgment is affirmed.”
The First Amendment protects the broad right of non-citizens to comment on US elections and candidates. But Congress banned political contributions and electioneering expenditures from foreign entities and foreign citizens, other than those who are lawful permanent residents of the US.
The Bluman case questioned why First Amendment free speech protections don’t also extend to foreign citizens who are legally present in the US on a temporary work visa.
The case was filed on behalf of two individuals who are in the US on work visas that are set to expire in 2012.
Benjamin Bluman is Canadian and works as an associate at a New York law firm. Despite his status as a non-permanent resident, Mr. Bluman wants to contribute to Democratic candidates running in US elections.
Both claimed the First Amendment protects their right to make political contributions despite the fact that they are not permanent residents.
The Federal Election Commission countered that Congress was within its authority to bar participation by those who have no permanent connection to the country.