Supreme Court Reaffirms Its Holding from Citizens United
State Court Docket Watch Summer 2012
August 27, 2012Edward Greim, Justin Whitworth
In denying a recent petition for certiorari and summarily reversing a decision of the Montana Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court adhered to principles of stare decisis and reaffirmed its 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (“Citizens United”), which held that corporations and labor unions’ independent spending for political campaigns enjoys First Amendment free-speech protection.1 The Montana Supreme Court had upheld a state law that prohibited corporate political expenditures, reasoning that Citizens United did not apply in Montana because of the state’s purportedly distinctive history of its “political system being corrupted by corporate interests.”2 The United States Supreme Court disagreed, summarily reversing without granting certiorari.3
In a brief per curiam decision opinion joined by five Justices, the Court framed the issue as “whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law.”4 Without hesitation, the Court answered that “[t]here can be no serious doubt that it does.”5 The Court found Montana’s arguments in support of upholding its law to be unoriginal and unconvincing.6 As the Court held in Citizens United, there is little uncertainty that independent corporate political spending “does not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”7
Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined the dissenting opinion authored by Justice Breyer, which expressed a strong desire to grant certiorari and reevaluate Citizens United.8 Moreover, Justice Breyer found that, even if he agreed with the holding in Citizens United, the Montana state law should not be struck down because of the state court’s finding that “independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana.”9 Nevertheless, Justice Breyer ultimately decided that it was appropriate to deny the petition because it was apparent to him from the per curiam opinion that Citizens United would not be overturned.10
Critics of the Court’s 2010 decision had hoped that the Justices would “reconcile their sweeping statement of free speech principles in Citizens United with the real-world facts” in Montana and throughout the country that allegedly show that corporate independent expenditures do create corruption.11 Yet the Citizens United majority had clearly grappled with and disposed of a wide array of arguments and purported evidence of “corruption,” making it clear in a lengthy and reasoned decision that its rationale did not rest merely on the fleeting nature of the evidence before it. It is clear that the Court did not believe that Montana’s history presented either the quality or quantum of evidence that would have justified a close reexamination—let alone a complete reversal—of such a recent and exhaustively considered decision.
* Edward Greim is an attorney in Kansas City, Missouri.
** Justin Whitworth is a student member of the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law Chapter of the Federalist Society. He is a J.D. Candidate for May 2012 as well as a Law Clerk at the Kansas City firm Graves Bartle Marcus & Garrett, LLC.
1 Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm’n, 558 U.S. 50 (2010).
2 Adam Liptak, Court Declines to Revisit Its Citizens United Decision, N.Y. Times, June 25, 2012.
3 Am. Tradition P’ship, Inc. v. Bullock, No. 11A762 (U.S. 2012).
6 Id. (“Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.”).
7 Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm’n, 558 U.S. 50 (2010).
8 Am. Tradition P’ship, No. 11A762.
11 Supreme Court Reverses Anti-Citizens United Ruling From Montana, Huffington Post, June 25, 2012.