Supreme Court Undermines States’ Rights By Expanding Citizens United

In a 5-4 vote, split over ideological lines, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that states cannot have their own campaign finance laws, and that all 50 states must abide by 2010’s Citizens United ruling.

The state of Montana has a century old law that limits corporate campaign contributions. In September of last year, American Tradition Partnership (an anti-environmentalist group), Montana Right to Life Association PAC and two Montana counties’ Republican Central Committees filed suit against the Montana law. The American Tradition Partnership said they wanted to fight, “the corrupt and lawless political machine in Helena, as well as the anti-jobs radicals at the Sierra Club who want to kill pipelines and progress itself.”

The Montana Supreme Court upheld the law in 2011, but the federal Supreme Court stayed the decision, enabling corporations to pump unlimited funds into this year’s primary elections and now the general election.


In a one page decision, the four conservative justices along with Justice Kennedy, declined to hear the case, leaving Citizens United as is. From the Washington Post:

“The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does,” the court said in an unsigned opinion.

In a brief dissent Monday, Justice Stephen Breyer said campaign spending since 2010 “casts grave doubt on the court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.”

Leaders in Montana delivered an even more scathing reply:

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock called the nation’s high court just “another political body,” while Gov. Brian Schweitzer says the Supreme Court is now endorsing “dirty, secret, corporate, foreign money.”

The Washington Post continues:

Montana urged the high court to reject the appeal, or hold arguments. The state would have preferred either of those outcomes to what the court did Monday — that is, issue what the court calls a summary reversal without holding new oral arguments. The prevailing side in the lower court almost always strives to avoid high court review. But Montana and its supporters hoped a thorough debate over the Citizens United decision would lead to its reconsideration or at least limits on its reach.

This decision is every bit as much a blow to the Republican ideal of states’ rights as it is to democracy, although the Supreme Court threw out any illusion that states have rights when they appointed George Bush president in 2000. One of the most sacred rights a state has is its right to run its own elections, even presidential elections. When the Republican wing of the court overrides a state’s ability to elect a president and then overrides a state’s ability to determine campaign finance laws, they lose any sort of claim to judicial restraint.

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