Citizens United: The Supreme Court Knocks Out Campaign Finance Reform

What Women Really Think
Jan. 21 2010 11:30 AM

Citizens United: The Supreme Court Knocks Out Campaign Finance Reform

The Supreme Court just struck down campaign finance reform . No modesty or narrow remedy here: This negates the main limits on corporate and union spending in the 60 days before a general election that Congress passed in 2002. The court overruled its own previous decisions allowing that legislation to stand. It's a Kennedy opinion and a 5-4 split, conservatives vs. liberals, except for one minor part that lets stand the disclosure requirements Congress imposed. On that one, it's everyone except Justice Thomas. You'll be seeing a lot more attack ads, but at least you'll know where they're coming from.

The first part of the opinion is all about justifying why the court has to rule so broadly: "It is not judicial restraint to accept an unsound, narrow argument just so the Court can avoid another argument with broader implications." The court didn't go for the idea that the anti-Hillary movie isn't really an attack ad: "There is no reasonable interpretation of Hillary other than as an appeal to vote against Senator Clinton."

Advertisement

The heart of the analysis is that money is speech, Congress suppressed speech, and that is unconstitutional. The limits on spending 60 days before an election aren't a sensible effort to staunch the flow of money into elections, with all the influence-pedding that brings. They give rise to "classic examples of censorship." That censorship is "vast in its reach." Here are Kennedy's examples of what the law prohibits, and shouldn't:

The Sierra Club runs an ad, within the crucial phase of 60 days before the general election, that exhorts the public to disapprove of a Congressman who favors logging in national forests; the National Rifle Association publishes a book urging the public to vote for the challenger because the incumbent U. S. Senator supports a handgun ban; and the American Civil Liberties Union creates a Web site telling the public to vote for a Presidential candidate in light of that candidate’s defense of free speech.

The majority says it doesn't matter that the corporations can spend all the money they want through PACs, because they aren't the PACs and their PACS aren't them.

So there you have it: a knock-out blow to campaign finance reform. Just in time for the midterm elections.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Mad About Modi


Why the controversial Indian prime minister drew 19,000 cheering fans to Madison Square Garden.


Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Don’t Panic! The U.S. Already Stops Ebola and Similar Diseases From Spreading. Here’s How.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 6:59 PM The Democrats’ War at Home Can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.