Supreme Court Re-Affirms Citizens United

Supreme Court rules Montana law restricting corporate spending unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court in Washington.
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The United States Supreme Court Monday struck down a Montana law that limited outside spending by corporations in elections. The summary reversal means the Court will not reconsider its decision in the Citizens United case in 2010, which asserted that outside spending by corporations in election campaigns is a constitutional right.

As in the Citizen United decision, the Court voted 5-4, with the conservative justices rejecting the Montana Supreme Court's claim that its state was uniquely vulnerable to political corruption and therefore needed to keep a state law that defied Citizens United.

[Supreme Court Considering Case That Defies Citizens United Ruling]

The majority's written decision was succinct and straight-forward. In ruling that "there can be no serious doubt that" the Citizens United decision applies to Montana state law, the Court wrote that "political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation."

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan all dissented with the majority opinion. Breyer authored the dissenting opinion, writing that Montana's history of corruption casts doubt on the central point of the Citizens United ruling: that outside spending by corporations didn't lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption.

Breyer wrote that there is a "substantial body of evidence" that outside spending by corporations "can be corrupting in much the same way as direct contributions."

The Montana case was watched closely by campaign finance interests, who saw the case as a chance for the Court to reconsider its ruling in light of the explosion in outside political spending that followed. Dozens of friend-of-the-court briefs were filed in the case, many of which pushed for stricter campaign finance regulation, including those of politicians such as Sen. John McCain, former election officials, and 22 states.

The decision could mark the end of Citizens United-related cases in the Supreme Court, says Paul Ryan, senior legal analyst at Campaign Legal Center, a pro-reform group.

"That will be the end of trying to re-litigate Citizens United for years to come," Ryan says. "At the very least the Court should reconsider some of the faulty assumptions of the Citizens United decision."

The Citizens United ruling assumed corporate spending would be done independently, and that it would be disclosed.

Since Citizens United, Super PACs operated by candidate's former staffers have become nearly indistinguishable from the candidates' own campaigns, Ryan says. As for disclosure, loopholes have allowed certain groups to keep their donors anonymous and their spending undisclosed.

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But anti-reform groups said the Citizens United ruling was sound, and needs no reconsideration.

"In the two years since Citizens United, campaigns have been more competitive and more issue-oriented, with higher voter turnout and more voices heard," said Brad Smith, founder of the Center for Competitive Politics, in a statement. His colleague Allen Dickerson, legal director at the Center, argues that the Montana case was not about Citizens United at all.

"I think there's been a false narrative about this (Montana) case," says Dickerson. "It has little to do with Citizens United and more to do with whether the U.S. Consitution can be interpreted by state judges independent of the Supreme Court."

Seth Cline is a reporter with U.S. News and World Repor. Contact him at scline@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.