(CN) – The Supreme Court missed an opportunity to review the flaws in allowing unlimited corporate contributions in elections, Justice Stephen Breyer said Monday, lamenting his colleagues’ decision to strike down a campaign-finance law in Montana.
A close majority said Monday that Montana’s law fails for the same reason that the court ruled in 2010 against its twin in federal law, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, also known as the McCain-Feingold law.
“The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law,” according to the unsigned majority opinion. “There can be no serious doubt that it does. Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.”
American Tradition Partnership filed suit over the Montana law in September alongside the Montana Right to Life Association PAC and two Montana counties’ Republican Central Committees.
The group says it is fighting “the corrupt and lawless political machine in Helena, as well as the anti-jobs radicals at the Sierra Club who want to kill pipelines and progress itself.”
Though the Montana Supreme Court upheld the law in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed that decision in February 2012, letting corporations continue funding political messages pending the ensuing appeal.
American Tradition greeted that stay with a promise to “win yet again” in the Supreme Court.
“The United States Constitution protects Americans’ God-given right to associate and speak freely, even if we choose to do that under the corporate structure,” it said in a February statement. “Stripping people of their right to engage in political speech because you do not like the identity of the speaker is an assault on this republic’s founding principles. The law and the Constitution are on our side and we expect to win yet again when this matter is considered by U.S. Supreme Court.”
Since the majority granted the petition and summarily reversed the underlying verdict, the dissenting justices said they voted to deny.
“Were the matter up to me, I would vote to grant the petition for certiorari in order to reconsider Citizens United or, at least, its application in this case,” Breyer wrote, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. “But given the court’s per curiam disposition, I do not see a significant possibility of reconsideration. Consequently, I vote instead to deny the petition.”
The opinion quotes from the dissent authored by Justice John Paul Stevens for Citizens United.
“As Justice Stevens explained, ‘technically independent expenditures can be corrupting in much the same way as direct contributions,'” Breyer wrote. “Indeed, Justice Stevens recounted a ‘substantial body of evidence’ suggesting that ‘[m]any corporate independent expenditures … had become essentially interchangeable with direct contributions in their capacity to generate quid pro quo arrangements.’
“Moreover, even if I were to accept Citizens United, this court’s legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court’s finding, made on the record before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana,” Breyer continued. “Given the history and political landscape in Montana, that court concluded that the state had a compelling interest in limiting independent expenditures by corporations. Thus, Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.”