The Court and Campaign Finance

In the Supreme Court this week, Elena Kagan, the new solicitor general, eloquently defended the longstanding ban on corporate spending in political campaigns. But the conservative justices who spoke showed a disdain for both Congress’s laws and for the court’s own prior rulings. If the ban is struck down, as we fear, elections could be swamped by special-interest money.

Conservative jurists talk about judicial modesty and deferring to the elected branches. But in the questioning, Justice Antonin Scalia made clear that he considers Congress to be a self-interested actor when it writes campaign finance laws. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito seemed to put little weight on the fact that the court has repeatedly upheld a ban on corporate campaign expenditures.

What the conservatives seemed most concerned about was protecting the interests of corporations. The chief justice and Justice Scalia seemed especially perturbed that what they see as the inviolable right of these legal constructs to speak might be infringed upon.

The conservatives also seemed incredulous that vast amounts of corporate money flooding into campaigns could be seen as corrupting the system. We agree with Senator John McCain, who told reporters after the argument that he was troubled by the “extreme naïveté” some of the justices showed about the role of special-interest money in Congressional lawmaking.

The more liberal justices — including Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was participating in her first argument — were far more sympathetic to the ban on corporate expenditures, but they have only four votes.

There is still some hope that Chief Justice Roberts may decide his affection for corporations is less important than the reputation of the Roberts court. If he does, there is a chance for a limited, and relatively undamaging, ruling that hews closely to the facts of this case.

The underlying dispute is a narrow First Amendment challenge brought by Citizens United, a nonprofit group that wanted to show an anti-Hillary Clinton movie on a video-on-demand service during the primary season. The court could uphold its right to show the movie without opening the door to a new era of political corruption.

The Court and Campaign Finance Rating: 4.5 Diposkan Oleh: Ignazio Abate