Supreme Court To Re-Examine Its Citizens United Ruling

On January 21, 2010 the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a 5-4 decision along partisan lines to allow unlimited corporate spending in elections. Republicans and their corporate masters were elated, everyone else was not. President Obama slammed the Court in his State of the Union address and while much of the chamber applauded, Justice Samuel Alito was seen mouthing “not true” in response:


In the two years since then, we’ve seen the worst case scenario enacted repeatedly throughout the country, as hundreds of millions of anonymous dollars and further millions from very public donors have poured into election after election. Most notable, so far, has been the Republican primary in which both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, both bolstered by obscenely large donations from billionaire “sugar daddies,” have distorted what would have been the natural (for lack of a better word) progression of the nomination process. This has forced the presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney, to waste millions fending off the competition instead of focusing on attacking President Obama. It has also left him open to savage attacks from other conservatives at a far later date than he would have normally have had to deal with.

What we see here is that bored billionaires can literally use politicians like game pieces. Want bragging rights at the yacht club? Get your guy elected president! Corporations can elect sock puppets to pass whatever laws and deregulation benefit the bottom line the most.

None of this is remotely healthy for a democratic country.

But there is hope. The Supreme Court has agreed to rule on a case that speaks directly to the previous ruling of Citizens United. Some time ago, the Montana Supreme Court essentially overruled Citizens United based on the idea that a federal law does not override a state law. Montana has very strict guidelines in place to prevent the very corruption that Citizens United invites because they have dealt with precisely this problem in the past. So as Justice Alito was making a fool of himself by insisting there would be no corruption, Montana has a number of laws on its books that says otherwise. You would think that a Supreme Court Justice might have availed himself of that precedent before ruling that it doesn’t exist.

The fact that the Court has even agreed to rule on this case is cause for hope. At the very least, Justice Alito is going to be aware of the fact that he was very very wrong about the amount of corporate influence infecting our electoral system. And that was only in two years! What would a decade or two of Citizens United bring? What happens when corporations and the mega-wealthy figure out just how much they can make from owning the government and how to do it? Obviously, the other conservative Justices will also have seen the true effect of their ruling. All it will take is for one of them to flip their vote and Citizens United can be overturned in every state. It will take time but it can be done. They may go so far as to reverse the original ruling altogether or try to limit the reversal to just Montana. Either way, a precedent is set and Citizens United becomes dangerously weakened.

Of course, the Justices could vote along party lines again and uphold Citizens United, 5-4. That would not only damage the country in the long run but it would cement, in the public’s mind, that the Supreme Court cannot be trusted to act impartially. We cannot afford much more erosion in the public’s confidence in the government as it is but the silver lining might be increased awareness that allowing the GOP to stack the Judiciary with radicals is not in our best interests.

 

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