Supreme Court Rulings: Montana Loses Citizens United Challenge, Life Terms For Juveniles Overturned

The Montana Supreme Court's challenge toCitizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 campaign finance ruling that deregulated corporate campaign expenditures has been overruled.

In a 5-4 decision issued Monday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court summarily reversed the Montana Supreme Court's ruling, where the state's highest court said that Montana had a compelling state interest to fight corporate corruption of its political campaigns. 

The decision was expected, because the state court directly challenged the U.S. Supreme Court's reasoning on Citizens United. However, many prominent elected officials, election law experts and campaign finance reformers hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would rehear aspects of the Citizens United decision that have been upended by campaign spending realities from the 2012 presidential campaign.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissent in the Montana case.

Here is the Montana decision:  (pdf link) //

Early reactions to the Montana decision have fallen on predictable lines. The Republican Party's top lawyers applauded the ruling, as it is seen as benefiting their many of their top donors and enables continued use of the fundraising loopholes first seen in the GOP presidential nominating contests.

Campaign finance reformers were disheartened, and call on the White House to fix what little remains in terms of regulating campaign finances. Paul Ryan, chief counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, issued the following statement, which typified the campaign finance reform community's view:


Unfortunately the only surprise would have been if the Supreme Court had taken the opportunity to revisit its horribly misguided decision in Citizens United.  Clearly the Supreme Court has decided to wash its hands of the disastrous results of its earlier decision.  Apparently the same five Justices who gave us Citizens United are not troubled by the fact that special interests are picking the winners and losers in our federal and state elections.

In dissent, Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, point out that “technically independent expenditures” can in fact corrupt despite the majority opinion in Citizens United.  The Campaign Legal Center argued this point extensively in its amici brief filed with the court in May.  If anyone truly believes that independent expenditures cannot corrupt they are simply not paying attention.

It is time for action across the street from the Supreme Court in Congress and it is time for President Obama to live up to his promise to bring change to the Federal Election Commission.  In the short term the President must nominate new commissioners to the FEC, which has shown contempt for the laws passed by Congress.  The Commission’s job is to implement and enforce the law, not to write it and enforce it selectively.  Congress must find longer term solutions to this problem, but in the short term it must quit ignoring the will of the people and pass the DISCLOSE Act so that at least citizens will be able to see who or what is trying to buy their vote.

The current situation, wrought by Citizens United, is nothing short of a gross debasement of our democracy and the idea of one citizen, one vote.  In theory the decision is naïve.  In practice it is shameful.

The Court also ruled 5-4 that juveniles convicted of murder cannot serve life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Guardian ran a moving piece about these cases and the toll they take on the young offenders, written before the arguments. It's a powerful understanding of the human effects of this practice:

At the oral argument, the lawyer for Jackson and Miller, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, will say that life without parole for such young kids is a violation of the eighth amendment of the US constitution that prohibits "cruel and unusual punishment". He will also argue that such sentences fly in the face of modern understanding of adolescence – the changing nature of the brain, the social pressures on teenagers, the change inherent in their transition from childhood to adulthood.

Here is the decision in the juvenile life in prison without parole case, holding that these punishments are indeed cruel and unusual: "The Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offender". //

The Court also read a list of cases it will hear next fall. 


AlterNet / By Steven Rosenfield, Sarah Seltzer

Posted at June 25, 2012, 4:17am

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