National Journal reports this morning on liberal claims that American Tradition Partnership’s challenge to Montana’s unconstitutional anti-speech laws offers the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to overturn its Citizens United v. FEC ruling.
The Court simply won’t, and will in all likelihood strike down Montana’s clearly unconstitutional laws without wasting time with a hearing.
National Journal reports ATP’s challenge will, in fact, strengthen, free speech laws and lead to uninfringed political speech in Montana.
The case, American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, centers on a century-old Montana law that prohibits corporations from spending money on political campaigns. The U.S. Supreme Court appeared to have rendered the state law unconstitutional in 2010 in its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that allowed unlimited corporate and union spending on elections; but the Montana Supreme Court unexpectedly upheld the ban last year.
The state judges contended that Citizens United does not apply to Montana’s anti-corruption measure–arguing, in effect, that the state should be able to determine how to regulate campaigns within its borders. Supporters of the state court’s decision, according to Rick Hasen, a campaign finance expert at the University of California (Irvine) School of Law, have framed it as a defense of federalism, a tactic calibrated to appeal to the Supreme Court’s majority conservative bloc. …
Legal experts of all ideological stripes expect the Supreme Court to strike down the Montana law, maybe as early as this month, even though more than 20 states have filed briefs in support of Montana’s position, contending that Citizens United in its short life has already had an observable, corrupting influence on national politics.
Ruling otherwise wouldn’t necessarily require the Court to reconsider Citizens United wholesale; it could instead carve out some breathing room for states to regulate and still maintain the framework that allows unlimited contributions to outside political groups, corporations, and unions. But because the Court’s composition has not changed since the decision came down, the justices are much more likely to choose the path of least resistance at their June 14 conference: They could merely vote to strike down the Montana law without a hearing.
American Tradition Partnership (ATP), a nonprofit 501(c)4 grassroots lobbying organization, won a critical victory for First Amendment freedoms today in Montana. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Lovell today ruled in favor of ATP in a motion for summary judgment on several claims, finding that the state could not prohibit corporate contributions to groups engaging in independent political speech, require ATP to include certain disclaimers on their communications, or prohibit political speech about candidate voting records the state judged ‘false.’
“This is a victory for the free speech rights of all Americans, and a loss for Montana politicians trying to squelch the voices of grassroots citizens challenging their power,” said Donald Ferguson, Executive Director of ATP. “The court today recognized that burdening ATP and other citizen groups with unnecessary, intrusive, and unwarranted regulations on speech is an affront to the First Amendment.”
ATP filed the lawsuit to prevent the State of Montana from enforcing unconstitutional restrictions on its speech. The judge ruled that ATP’s challenge to Montana’s excessively low contribution limits ($160 to a candidate for state legislature, $630 to a candidate for Governor) will proceed to trial, and ruled in the State’s favor that the ban on direct contributions from corporations to candidates was constitutional.
The case is Lair et al v. Murray et al, case number 6:12-cv-00012-CCL.
“In today’s Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Attorney General, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a ban on corporate expenditures to speak in support of or opposition to political candidates — pretty much the same sort of ban that the United States Supreme Court struck down in Citizens United v. FEC. The majority argues that Citizens United is distinguishable, because of Montana’s “unique” interests stemming from its history, its size, and its political culture,” “The Volkoh Conspiracy,” a blog run and written by law professors writes Friday.
The professors quote from the majority ruling, as well as the dissent:
“Having considered the matter, I believe the Montana Attorney General has identified some very compelling reasons for limiting corporate expenditures in Montana’s political process. The problem, however, is that regardless of how persuasive I may think the Attorney General’s justifications are, the Supreme Court has already rebuffed each and every one of them. Accordingly, as much as I would like to rule in favor of the State, I cannot in good faith do so…. I cannot agree that [the majority’s] “Montana is unique” rationale is consistent with Citizens United….
[W]hat has happened here is essentially this: The Supreme Court in Citizens United … rejected several asserted governmental interests; and this Court has now come along, retrieved those interests from the garbage can, dusted them off, slapped a “Made in Montana” sticker on them, and held them up as grounds for sustaining a patently unconstitutional state statute….”
“My sense is that the disagreement with Citizens United is so striking that it is likely that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case, and will reverse the Montana Supreme Court’s decision,” they conclude.
“There is so much wrong with this opinion one hardly knows where to begin,” the Center for Campaign Freedom writes.
They go on to state:
“…as the dissent by Justice James Nelson notes:
The Supreme Court could not have been more clear in Citizens United: corporations have broad rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to engage in political speech, and corporations cannot be prohibited from using general treasury funds for this purpose based on antidistortion, anticorruption, or shareholder protected interests. The language of the Citizens United majority opinion is remarkably sweeping and leaves virtually no conceivable basis for muzzling or otherwise restricting corporate political speech in the form of independent expenditures.
… [E]very one of the Attorney General’s arguments – and this Court’s rationale for adopting those arguments – was argued, considered, and then flatly rejected by the Supreme Court.
“The MSC seems to think that Citizen’s United was a mere, as-applied, fact specific challenge, similar to Federal Election Commission v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, wherein the Court held that a small, volunteer non-profit literally raising money through bake sales could not be subject to the ban on corporate expenditures.
“In fact, Citizens United’s holding that independent expenditures are not “corrupting” is not a statement of fact, but a statement of law…”
They then write:
“In any event, given this misunderstanding of the Supreme Court’s order in Citizens United - although unlike the poor Earl Lucan, here the MSC’s misunderstanding may have been intentional – the MSC has charged into the Valley of Death.”
“In upholding a century-old state ban on corporate spending in politics, Montana’s top court last week issued a rebuke of the U.S. Supreme Court‘s landmark Citizens United ruling that has been cited in challenges to local campaign finance laws,” international news source Investor’s Business Times reports this morning.
“…The law was challenged by a painting and drywall business, a Second Amendment advocacy group and an organization the Montana Supreme Court described as a “conduit of funds for… corporations who want to spend money anonymously to influence Montana elections.
“This organization, now known as American Tradition Partnership, is also challenging Montana’s law in federal court.
“The groups challenging the Big Sky State’s anti-corruption law say the Citizens United decision clearly states that government cannot restrict protected political speech. A trial court in Montana agreed and struck down the law.
“But the state Supreme Court overturned the decision, taking a more narrow view of the Citizens United decision, which concerned a federal law preventing corporations from “electioneering” by issuing political ads within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election…
American Tradition Partnership’s executive director, Donald Ferguson, said in a statement that the Montana Supreme Court has “shown contempt for the overriding law of the land and has thumbed its nose at the United States Supreme Court.”
“Regardless of whether one believes corporations have the right to spend their money to do independent political ads, the Supreme Court has specifically addressed this question as a matter of constitutional law and the Montana Supreme Court has no authority or basis to tell the Supreme Court it is wrong,” he added.
“In a dissent, Justice Beth Baker agreed with Ferguson, predicting the majority’s ruling will be a “vain attempt to rescue Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act.”
“I believe it is our unflagging obligation, in keeping with the courts’ duty to safeguard the rule of law, to honor the decisions of our nation’s highest court,” she wrote. “Citizens United makes clear that a state’s outright ban on corporate political expenditures violates the First Amendment.”
Read the entire story here.
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