Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission

The 5-4 conservative majority decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission struck many decades of law and precedents, and it will likely go down in history as one of the Supreme Court’s most shameful exercises of judicial activism. The Roberts Court ruled unconstitutional the ban on corporate treasury funding of independent political campaigns.

The Court attempted to formulate new constitutional law by ordering a re-argument of a minor case that raised no direct challenge to the laws and precedents that it ultimately overruled; dismissed the legitimacy of laws enacted over a century by Congress and state legislatures; equated the free speech protections of individuals and corporations in spite of countless laws and precedents that insisted on meaningful differences; and provided no evidence of new conditions or damaging effects that justified imposing their own ideological preferences on a body of settled law and social tradition.

The decision makes a mockery of Chief Justice Roberts’ self-righteous statements during his confirmation hearing that he embraced judicial modesty and constitutional avoidance
To be sure, Citizens United is not the first sign that the Roberts Court is dead set on deregulating campaign finance. Previous decisions have pointed in this direction and more are certain to follow.

Privately controlled companies led by individuals with strong ideological and partisan motivations are more than likely going to take advantage of the new legal environment, but they could already act individually without restraints. Possibly the greatest impact will come from the threat of corporate independent spending campaigns for or against officeholders whose position on issue’s before federal and state governments is important to their corporate interests. This could corrupt the policy process without any dollars actually being spent. It will a while before we are able to gauge the real impact of Citizens United.

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