Activists rally against Citizens United on Capitol Hill in 2011.
The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed its controversial 2-year-old decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in politics when it struck down a law in Montana banning such spending. In doing so, the justices effectively expanded Citizens United’s reach to state campaign finance laws.
“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 majority wrote in a per curiam opinion. “Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.”
The 5-4 vote was along the same partisan lines that were drawn in the 2010 case.
The majority turned away pleas from the court’s liberal justices to give a full hearing to the case because massive campaign spending since the January 2010 ruling has called into question some of its underpinnings.
The same five justices said in 2010 that corporations have a constitutional right to be heard in election campaigns. The decision paved the way for unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions in elections for Congress and the president, as long as the dollars are independent of the campaigns they are intended to help. The decision, grounded in the freedom of speech, appeared to apply equally to state contests.
But Montana aggressively defended its 1912 law against a challenge from corporations seeking to be free of spending limits, and the state Supreme Court sided with the state. The state court said a history of corruption showed the need for the limits, even as Justice Anthony Kennedy declared in his Citizens United opinion that independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”