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Supreme conservatives decline to reconsider Citizens United

By the usual 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its famous "Citizens United" doctrine.

You’ve surely heard by now that the big Supreme Court ruling on the health care bill was not released today. But the court did rule on the Arizona immigration enforcement law, striking down some provisions and upholding others.

But the Supremes made one ruling that isn’t getting much notice in a case  that was on my watchlist. 

By the usual 5-4 vote, the court reaffirmed its famous “Citizens United” doctrine.

The state of Montana, a state with a particularly nasty history of corporate corruption of politics, had offered the slim majority an opportunity to consider Citizens United after two years of observing its effects. The court took the case, which raised the possibility that developments of the previous and the current election cycles might have induced some member of the slim Citizens United” majority to have a rethink.

But no.

The court attaches great weight to precedent, and it would be rare to see the court reverse itself so soon. But they did take the case, and it would take only one justice — presumably the usual swing voter Justice Anthony Kennedy — to note that several of the key premises of the 2010 ruling have not held up.

Kennedy’s fairly complex doctrine in the original case is that the Constitution does allow Congress to regulate campaign finance in order to combat political corruption, but must also respect the ambiguous “personhood” doctrine of corporations, under which corporations have some of the rights of individual humans, and the fact that freedom of expression could be undermined by excessive regulation of the money necessary to exercise free speech.

The key to finessing that problem, Kennedy wrote for the Citizens United majority, was that corporations could give unlimited amounts to organizations involved in political advertising as long as those organizations were “independent” and did not “coordinate” their activities with the candidates’ own campaign committees.

In just two cycles, the special committees formed to exploit this loophole have demonstrated that the enforcement of the key concepts — independence and non-coordination — are much more loophole than law.

In the Montana case that reached the Supreme Court this year, the Montana Supreme Court had suggested that perhaps the new rules applied to federal elections but that states could still make their own rules, especially states with a particularly vivid history of corporations corrupting politics through campaign finances. In urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg also suggested that the court take into account the first two years of life under the Citizens United doctrine.

“Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,’ ” Ginsburg wrote, adding that by taking the case, the U.S. Supreme Court will have “an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

Well, it did give them such an opportunity, and today, by the same 5-4 vote that created the Citizens United regime, the five Republican appointees on the Supreme Court ruled that Citizens United should continue to hold sway. 

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Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/25/2012 - 11:03 am.

    Shouldn’t that be


  2. Submitted by Randy Werner on 06/25/2012 - 11:53 am.

    Corporations as people

    Really, corporations as people. Do they have a right to privacy too then? Can I sell stock to raise capital, it would sure help out with some of my expansion plans.

    • Submitted by Pete Barrett on 06/25/2012 - 05:12 pm.

      Cut The Cord On The Roberts Court

      If you have a belly button, you’re a person. If you don’t, you’re not a person.

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/25/2012 - 01:18 pm.

    Constitutional amendment time

    There are a number of proposals floating in Congress for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizen’s United and now this case. if we had political parties that stood for integrity, we’d have a constitutional amendment stating that “persons” under the Bill of Rights do not include “corporations.” A Republican Congress would probably not approve any such amendment. The right wing dream of a one party state is now within the grasp of the Republican party, though with the present Democratic Party, consisting of ex-Republican types, it’s a two party state in name only.

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 06/25/2012 - 01:23 pm.

    It is a very sad time for our country.

    Effectively the Supreme Court has turned our one vote system into a two vote system for some. First they get to vote with their money and then again in November. I wonder which vote has the most influence? The Robert’s Court has made the argument not to have lifetime assignments to the Supreme Court if this is the best decision making they can do. The decision is yours in November which way you want the country to go. Wake up voters!

  5. Submitted by Keith Nybakke on 06/25/2012 - 03:18 pm.

    Move to Amend the Constitution

    There are several efforts underway to turn back this ruling. The following quote from the group, “Move to Amend” captures the effort well:

    “We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.”

    Saint Paul is listed as having passed a resolution in support. Hundreds of other cities and organizations are also listed in support of this move.

  6. Submitted by Joe Musich on 06/25/2012 - 03:50 pm.

    a breathtaking question of Rhetoric ?


    Let t all who will Eat quietly the bread of shame. I cannot, Without complaining loud and long. Tasting its bitterness in my throat, And feeling to my very soul It’s wrong. For honest work You proffer me poor pay, for honest dreams Your spit is in my face, And so my fist is clenched Today-To strike your face.

    Langston Hughes

    What is free speech ?

  7. Submitted by Michael Corcoran on 06/25/2012 - 04:00 pm.

    Missed the significance


    The news is:

    Yes boys and girls, this Montana decision applies to all of states and localities that have prohibited corporate/union campaign contributions!

    Today is a very good day for the GOP…very good indeed.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/25/2012 - 05:32 pm.


      Yep — good for corporations and their GOP lap dogs;
      bad for the United States and its citizens.
      Next thing you know, their Court will be giving corporations voting rights.
      By the way; I don’t see the word “union” in the article that you link to.
      But adults may read it differently than boys and girls.

  8. Submitted by John Edwards on 06/25/2012 - 04:49 pm.

    Contarily, A victory for political speech

    Liberals are livid over the ruling, as Rush Limbaugh today predicted they would be. The court’s decision is a reaffirmation of the right to political speech in this country. Liberals, who have a lock on the national media, are understandably upset that other voices will now clearly be heard.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 06/25/2012 - 10:46 pm.

      What other voices?

      Define what that means. Corporate CEOs? The board? The corporate computer system? Surely not the shareholders – might be too many liberals. What drivel!

  9. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/25/2012 - 06:41 pm.

    Good grief

    If you people are so convinced that a corporation has no more rights than a pile of bricks, then it must follow that you can’t sue them any more than you could sue a pile of bricks or tax them any more than you could tax a pile of bricks, things that I’m sure you’d be outraged if you couldn’t do.

    And political campaign money is a form of free speech just as barrels of ink and web servers are a form of free speech in that government doesn’t have the constitutional right to be telling us how much is too much.

    The only reason this issue was even visited again is because that anti-corporate shrew Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her two little hand maidens haven’t yet gotten around to reading the Constitution.

  10. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 06/25/2012 - 08:19 pm.

    The GOP Is Bankrupt

    The GOP can’t win elections on viable ideas. They have to buy them. We saw what George W. Bush did to the country. Your talking points have not changed since Bush’s disaster, so why would the GOP know how to run the country now. Short answer. The GOP is leadership and idea bankrupt. The Supreme Court has answered the argument of whether there should be lifetime assignments to the Court. If the Citizens United decision is the best they can do for our democracy, then they don’t deserve to be on the court. They have turned our one-vote system into a two-vote system for some. They vote once with their money and then again in November. Which of their votes will have the most impact? Wake up voters. The choice is yours in November.

  11. Submitted by Mark Heuring on 06/25/2012 - 08:30 pm.


    General Mills is a corporation. Should they be allowed to express their views on the Marriage Amendment?

  12. Submitted by Dylan Bindman on 06/25/2012 - 09:39 pm.

    “By the usual 5-4 vote”

    You know we’re in trouble when you can say “By the usual 5-4 vote” and everybody knows what and who that means.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/26/2012 - 06:45 am.


      It means the four liberals on the court are so predictable and intellectually bankrupt that they’re judicial philosophies aren’t even discussed nor the constitutional aspects of their votes analyzed. They’re just there to provide four votes for the Left regardless of the issue and no one even disputes that.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 06/26/2012 - 08:59 am.


      It means the four right wing conservatives on the court are so predictable and morally bankrupt that their “judicial” philosophies, some dating from the 18th century, are to simply overturn prior decisions of the court without any basis or precedent. They are just simply there to do the bidding of the Right regardless of the issue, and no one disputes that fact. Kennedy just wobbles from side to side.

  13. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/25/2012 - 09:51 pm.

    Which of our elected officials is being bought?

    You must name names and provide proof. The only way this money theory works is if people take it. List the corrupt politicians so that they may be prosecuted and removed from office.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 06/26/2012 - 07:20 am.

      Bribery is more subtle now than in the past,…

      …when, say, Lyndon Johnson used to send a guy with a bag full of hard green cash to a key official to influence the outcome of an election.

      Particularly since that Abscam business, venal politicians don’t want to get caught in a stupid payoff and go to prison for it.

      So now, it’s done by cutting a Congressman or Senator in on a sweet real estate deal, a sweet commodities trade, grant of a license or concession, promising a hire to a future high-paying position after they leave office, or even simply donating money to their re-election campaign. I am sure there are other ways, too, but these come to mind right off the bat.

      No more cash in brown paper bags.

      So your demand to disclose who these corrupt politicians are is a little off-target because it is exceedingly difficult to develop proof that that the behaviors noted above are linked to corruption, no matter how obvious it is to our common sense. That’s why they now use these methods !!

      Who are they? Just look around – their numbers are LEGION.

      • Submitted by Pat Berg on 06/26/2012 - 11:23 am.


        And the kind of work it takes to follow and expose these connections was once upon a time done by journalists.

        That’s mostly not happening any more now that “the news” consists largely of entertainment and sound bytes.

        And the lack of this kind of hard-hitting investigative journalism is one of the strongest counterpoints to the oft-repeated charges by conservatives of a “liberal media”.

        Believe me, a truly liberal media would be exposing this stuff. The fact that they’re not tells me more than I want to know about who’s holding the purse strings.

  14. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 06/25/2012 - 10:16 pm.

    The best SCOTUS

    Money can buy. And it has.

  15. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 06/25/2012 - 10:23 pm.

    Activist judges

    In one ruling, they affirm states rights, quoting slavery laws as an affirmation, in another they strike down state’s rights. That is the problem with lying about your stances, as Roberts and Alito did, they can’t remember which story is the “truth”. Impeach These fools for perjury, they lied to Congress about their true stances. Perjury is perjury, even for a Supreme Court judge.

  16. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 06/25/2012 - 10:33 pm.

    Let’s add

    The death penalty for the crimes of these corporation-persons

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/26/2012 - 09:31 am.

      Good idea

      After all, Rmoney murdered a lot of corporations, so the life of his corporate persona ought to be forfeit.

  17. Submitted by mark wallek on 06/27/2012 - 01:03 am.

    Traitorous court.

    John Roberts is not the first judge to be bought off, but his placement, and the timing of that placement make his job obvious: to betray the american ciotizen and empower the corporation and the corporate representatives. In time, the citizen will have no option but to disobey the dictates of this court. The anti war protests of the late 60’s will look like picnics in comparison. Pressures will be such that the corporate press will not be able to disembowel the surge of outrage like they sucessfully did with the “occupy” movement. Things arte not getting better for america, and we all know it.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/02/2012 - 04:16 pm.

      I wonder…

      if now, in the sweet afterglow of ObamaCare’s affirmation you still feel the same way, Mark. And if you do, perhaps you might have at least re-considered *who* you believe “bought” Roberts “off”.

  18. Submitted by Richard Steuland on 06/27/2012 - 04:14 pm.

    Citizens United

    Democracy by and for the rich. What a sham the Supreme Court has become. The founding Fathers must be rolling over in their graves. Campaign finance reform is desperately needed if we are to save our Democracy.
    History does not bode well for a peaceful reform as the powerful won’t go easily.

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