Gavel Grab

Citizens United Commentary Round-Up

There are some new takes on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that are worth reading.

In “Campaign Money and the Chief Justice” published by National Journal Magazine, Stuart Taylor delves into what he calls “the one serious First Amendment defect in the campaign finance rules now before the Court,” an amendment that extended the ban on “electioneering” broadcast ads by business corporations to nonprofit ideological corporations. The court should strike down that narrow provision while upholding the ban for business corporations, he wrote.

On a grander scale, Taylor writes about the longtime ban on corporate spending for political candidates,

“The broader question is whether [Chief Justice] Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito will aggravate the Court’s polarization and give plausibility to charges of conservative judicial activism by providing the fourth and fifth votes for demolition of the ban, and of two important precedents as well.”

Separately Jess Bravin examines in a Wall Street Journal article a comment by newly seated Justice Sonia Sotomayor, at last week’s hearing in Citizens United, that “that probed the foundations of corporate law.”

In contrast to the Supreme Court’s seeming majority conservative belief in broad First Amendment rights for corporations, Bravin reports, Justice Sotomayor suggested “that instead the court should reconsider the 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights flesh-and-blood people have.” The writer also acknowledges that suggestion isn’t likely to carry the day.

Meanwhile Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina, a partner group with Justice at Stake Campaign, voices concern in an opinion piece that the Supreme Court’s aversion to regulating spending in elections “leaves the public with few avenues to protect candidates who don’t have access to wealth or who want to focus on public service rather than fundraising.”

It may be that in event of an adverse ruling by the high court, the only viable option is giving political candidates a way to get public financing, Hall adds.

Citizens United, a major campaign finance regulation case, grew out of a controversy over the nonprofit group’s efforts to distribute by TV video-on-demand a documentary harshly critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton, called “Hillary: The Movie.” You can read more about the case in earlier Gavel Grab blogs or in an amicus brief submitted by Justice at Stake.

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