In a long-awaited 5-4 decision today, the Supreme Court of the United States has overturned its 1990 decision in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce which had allowed states to ban corporations from using treasury money to support or oppose candidates through independent expenditures. [Bans on direct corporate contributions to candidates were not at issue in this case; you'll have to wait a few years on that one.]Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority in today's case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, with Justice Stevens penning a 90-page dissent on behalf of himself and Justices Breyer, Ginsburg and Sotomayor. The full decision is here (PDF)
Senator Russ Feingold, who co-authored McCain-Feingold campaign reform act, is worried.
“This would be in my view, a lawless decision from the Supreme Court,” says the senator who gave his name to the McCain-Feingold law. “Part of me says I can’t believe they’ll do it, but there’s some indication they might, and that means the whole idea of respecting the previous decisions of the Supreme Court won’t mean anything anymore.”A lawyer who chairs the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feingold notes with regard to controls on corporate campaigning: “These things were argued in 1907, when they passed the ban on corporate treasuries. It was argued in 1947, Taft-Hartley did this. The Supreme Court has affirmed over and over again that it’s not part of free speech that corporations and unions can use their treasuries (to buy elections).”If the court does overturn both law and precedent to advance a corporate agenda, Feingold says, “It’s just an example of activism, and legislating by a court, if they do this.
It is, as well, dangerous for democracy.
Says Feingold: “If they overturn a hundred years of laws, it means that corporations or unions can just open their treasuries (and) just completely buy up all the television time, and drown out everyone else’s voices.”