22 States Stand Up Against Citizens United
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling has wreaked havoc on our electoral system, and now many states are fighting back. The Montana Supreme Court issued a ruling on campaign finance earlier this year that some say stands in opposition to Citizens United. The ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and many observers are excited that the court may have to revisit its decision with the effects of the case now apparent. 22 states have filed a brief with the court expressing their support for the Montana court’s ruling, strongly stating their stance against Citizens United. This court case, while far from a given, represents the greatest challenge to Citizens United to date, and the support of these states shows just how widespread the damage from Citizens United has been.
In early January, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a century-old law which banned corporate spending in state and local elections. Twenty-three other states had similar laws on the books before the Citizens United ruling was handed down, but Montana has been the only state to continue to uphold theirs. The law had been created in order to counter the influence of Gilded Age profiteers who had essentially purchased Montana’s government. Until the 1912 ruling banned corporate spending, Montana’s so-called “Copper Kings,” who had profited off of the state’s natural resources, were said to have “bought legislatures and judges as other men buy food and raiment.”
American Tradition Partnership and two corporations brought the challenge to the Montana ruling to the Supreme Court. American Tradition is an interest group that “seeks to fight the radical environmentalist agenda.” When agreeing to hear the case, the justices issued an order staying the Montana court’s ruling. In that order Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer stated that lower courts are bound by the Supreme Court’s ruling until it is overturned or modified, but they also express concern at the state of the country’s political landscape since the Citizens United ruling was handed down.
“Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,’” the justices wrote.
In the brief submitted by the 22 states, they express support for the Montana court’s decision, stating that Montana’s campaign finance laws do not interfere with those of Citizens United. The law regulates corporate political spending at the state level, which they argue is different than the federal issues raised in Citizens United.
Unfortunately most observers don’t think this support will sway the Supreme Court’s decision making process. There seems to be little hope of overturning Citizens United, and the Montana law’s fate does not look much more promising. Unless the ideological make-up of the court changes, it seems unlikely that any court challenge will be the end of this disastrous ruling. A constitutional amendment, while a long-shot, may be the only hope for curbing the flood of corporate money we have seen.