The Supreme Court has just issued a major ruling in a campaign finance reform case that, according to Tom Goldstein at ScotusBlog, might well represent “a small revolution” in this area of the law because it “overturns the previously settled distinction between corporate and individual expenditures in American elections.” The case is Citizens United v. FEC. The opinions are here.
I haven’t read the majority opinion yet and won’t be able to do so until tonight at the earliest. According to Steve Hoersting at Bench Memos, the Court has removed the prohibition on corporations seeking to finance independent, electoral advertising without using political action committees funded by employees. In doing so, it overturned its 1990 ruling in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce. In addition, the Court “necessarily, invalidated McCain-Feingold’s ban on corporate electioneering advertising within 60 days of a general election.”
On the other hand, the Court apparently has upheld the requirements that:
Any corporation that spends more than $10,000 in a year to produce or air the kind of election season ad covered by federal restrictions must file a report with the Federal Election Commission revealing the names and addresses of anyone who contributed $1,000 or more to the ad’s preparation or distribution.
If a political ad is not authorized by a candidate or a political committee, the broadcast of the ad must say who is responsible for its content, plus the name and address of the group behind the ad.
The vote was 5-4. Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion which was joined, in its main part, by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. Justice Stevens wrote the dissent, all 90 pages of it. Justice Thomas, as I understand it, dissented from the portion of the ruling that upheld the the requirements listed above. As to those requirements, the vote was 8-1.
There have been rumors that Justice Stevens will retire soon. If he hopes to be succeeded by a liberal, he might well conclude that this session of Congress is the last one for some time that can easily accomplish the deed. On the other hand, Stevens seems to be as vigorous as ever, as his 90-pager suggests.
UPDATE: NRO’s Bench Memos presents a series of useful posts about this decision. Ed Whelan anticipates the howls from liberals that Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito “have somehow betrayed their confirmation testimony in voting to overrule the Court’s holdings on corporate speech in Austin v. Michigan State Chamber of Commerce and McConnell v. FEC.”
Emphasizing a point made by Justice Kennedy in his opinion for the Court and by the Chief Justice in his concurrence, Ed argues that “Solicitor General Elena Kagan walked away from the Court’s actual rationale in Austin (which rationale had already been undermined by recent precedent) and instead advanced a defense of Austin that. . .would have required the Court to reject, at least in part, one of the central tenets of the landmark 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo.”