Supreme Court Denies Montana Challenge to Citizens United
UPDATE, 2:50 p.m.: Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued a statement that “the Court has sent a clear message today that it is blind to the disturbing realities of how we elect political leaders in a post-Citizens United world – one that prioritizes money over policy, passion, and intellect.” You can read the full statement here.
This morning the U.S. Supreme Court issued a summary 5-4 reversal of a Montana case that would have challenged Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the door to unlimited corporate and union spending in political campaigns. The case, American Trade Partnership v. Bullock, considered whether the Citizens United decision can be applied at the state level, and specifically to Montana, which challenged the scope of the ruling. The high court’s summary reversal, which means the Court made this decision without hearing oral arguments, sends a clear message that the Justices are refusing to budge in their ruling on Citizens United.
Justice Breyer wrote the dissent and was joined by Justice Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan in opposing the summary order which stated that “there can be no serious doubt that [Citizens United applies to the Montana state law].” He wrote:
“Moreover, even if I were to accept Citizens United, this Court’s legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court’s finding, made on the record before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana. Given the history and political landscape in Montana, that court concluded that the State had a compelling interest in limiting independent expenditures by corporations.”
In January, Montana became the first state post-Citizens United to uphold a state law banning corporate contributions to campaign spending (the law in question, the Montana Corrupt Practices Act, was passed in 1912 to counteract the unfair influence wielded by the Butte “Copper Kings” that dominated the state’s economy). Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock argued that Citizens United applied to federal elections only, not state-level and local elections, and that the influence of money in politics is just as corrupting today as it was in 1912, so the statute should remain in place. The Montana Supreme Court agreed with Mr. Bullock. However, its decision had been on hold as the nation’s high court considered whether to hear the case. With the Supreme Court’s summary reversal of that decision today, corporations in Montana—and presumably in every state—can spend unlimited sums in politics in the upcoming election.
We are extremely disappointed that the High Court did not take the Montana case as an opportunity to clarify Citizens United and rule that states can enact their own campaign finance restrictions. It sounds simple, but it cannot be said enough: Mixing money and politics is harmful to our political process and toxic to our democracy, and Citizens United has only amplified profit-driven corporate interests. Campaign finance reform is not just an issue of politics, but also an issue of faith; in the pursuit of tzedek, or justice, we must continue to advocate for new opportunities and alternative financing systems that raise up the voices of those too often misrepresented or underrepresented in politics. We renew our call for a remedy to the Citizens United decision and will keep fighting for responses such as clean-money public financing systems until the next opportunity arises for the Court to revisit this shameful ruling.