Posted on March 27, 2012 by Donald Ferguson.
Today three corporations asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Montana Supreme Court’s holding that corporations in Montana may be banned from making independent political expenditures by expressly advocate the election or defeat of state candidates. In the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects such core political speech even if made by corporations in federal elections and could not be banned. But the Montana Supreme Court upheld a ban on corporate independent expenditures for such speech, based on Montana’s uniqueness, especially its history of corruption.
The U.S. Supreme Court has already stayed the Montana Supreme Court’s decision, meaning that corporations can currently speak despite the state court’s holding. The stay is in effect while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to accept the case for review, and, if it is accepted, then until the case is decided.
In their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, the corporations explained that the Montana decision was in conflict with both the Court’s holding that corporations could not be banned from doing core political speech and the Court’s reasoning that the independence of such speech eliminated any risk of corrupting candidates. The petition stressed the importance of upholding respect for the rule of law, the Supreme Court’s decisions, and the Supreme Court itself. It noted the flood of cases that would arise from other states seeking similar as-applied exceptions if Montana’s decision stands. And it noted the profound constitutional problems that would arise if Montana’s arguments were allowed to prevail. For example, if Montana’s argument that it is unique because it is sparsely populated were to prevail, this would mean that would-be speakers in densely populated urban areas have greater speech protection than those in suburban or rural areas.
James Bopp, Jr., lead counsel for the corporations, states: “If Montana can ban core political speech because of Montana’s unique characteristics, free speech will be seriously harmed. Speakers will be silenced because of corruption by others over a century ago or because Montana candidates have traditionally spent little money on their campaigns. This puts speakers at the mercy of others and of past actions over which they have no control. The First Amendment’s protections cannot be so conditioned.”