by MICHAEL CHARNEY
While we’ve all been waiting patiently for the Supreme Court to rule on the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), two other very important cases were also on the court’s docket recently. And while we are now forced to wait until Thursday for the decision on health care, the other rulings (which were announced today) now blanket our media—all 100% of it.
One of those two—the challenge against Montana’s 1912 law barring corporations from contributing to political parties and campaigns—was decided in favor of the complainant, American Tradition Partnership. ATP, a conservative advocacy group, successfully challenged the Montana ban (which had previously been upheld by Montana’s Supreme Court). Today’s ruling came back as a 5-4 partisan decision that effectively reaffirms the earlier Citizens United ruling and makes clear that the federal findings supersede any state laws.
Here at the CoffeeParty we’re teetering between dismay and anger.
The ruling means that the floodgates remain open. It means that money is still speech, and those with more of it get to shout louder than the rest of us. It means that money can move in and through states impacting elections and issues at every level—all without anyone ever getting to know where it came from.
Politicians, prepared with talking points, offered nothing unexpected. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that “In another important victory for freedom of speech, the Supreme Court has reversed the Montana Supreme Court, upholding First Amendment free speech rights that were set out in Citizens United.” Bernie Sanders (I-VT), spoke for the other side when he said that, “I am extremely disappointed but not surprised that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Montana court ruling that would have allowed limits on campaign contributions,” before adding that he intends to work as hard as he can “for a constitutional amendment to overturn this disastrous Supreme Court decision.”
The battle, clearly, is far from over.
The decision surrounds itself in irony. The neo-conservatives argue repeatedly that nothing could ever be worse than activist judges, and yet both this decision and the Citizens United decision before it represent an activism likely unprecedented, skewing, as it does, the very foundation of what free speech has historically come to mean.
The result is a ruling that upholds the constitutionality of free speech yet reinforces exactly the opposite effect. We, as a nation, are rapidly moving from “one person/one vote” to “one dollar/one vote.” Lawrence Lessig, in a March 2012 article in The Atlantic, noted that, as of that time, 80% of the money donated to SuperPACs came from less than 200 people.
That’s not free speech. On the contrary. That’s very expensive speech, speech you and I quite likely can’t afford.
The battle to restore the definition of free speech is not over, though. Outrage mounts as more and more people—real people—raise their voices. Whether it will occur through a constitutional amendment or through changes to the Supreme Court that result in different rulings, our voices will stand. United citizens can still overturn Citizens United.