The Supreme Court on Monday overturned Montana’s century-old campaign-finance restrictions, in a decision that reaffirmed the high court’s earlier ruling that corporations and unions are entitled to free-speech rights in political campaigns.
In a 5-4 ruling, the court said Montana’s law runs afoul of the 2010 Citizens United decision that held “political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation.”
The five-justice majority, made up of Republican-appointed members, said Montana’s law is no different than the parts of the 2002 federal campaign law the justices struck down two years ago.
In a sharp dissent, the four justices appointed by Democratic presidents repeated their opposition to Citizens United, signaling they reject the decision as a precedent.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the minority, also appealed to federalism, saying that even if the court were right to strike down restrictions at the federal level, Montana lawmakers should be free to decide that corporate political spending has a corrupting influence in their state.
The court ruled without ever hearing oral arguments, deciding that the case was so similar to the Citizens United situation that further debate wasn’t necessary.
Montana’s 1912 law banned corporate spending in campaigns. It was upheld by the state’s high court, which ruled that the danger of elections being bought by corporate spending was too high in Montana.
Interest groups challenged it the law, saying it couldn’t stand in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and the top court agreed on Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, who has led the opposition to government restrictions on campaign spending and advocacy, called the ruling “another important victory for freedom of speech.”
Democrats accused the court of trying to control the political conversation.
“The Supreme Court persists with its anything-goes interpretation of the First Amendment,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “For apparently political reasons, the Supreme Court is further tipping the balance of power in America in favor of deep-pocketed, outside interests.”
Since the decision, some Democrats have sought unsuccessfully to overturn it by constitutional amendment, while the party’s leaders have pushed for more disclosure of donors who fund the new, higher spending.
On Monday, Mr. McConnell said that despite the fears of corporations overwhelming the system, they have had a relatively small impact. He said no Fortune 100 company has contributed any money to the top eight Republican super PACs, according to the latest filings through March 31, and said of the nearly $100 million those super PACs have collected, more than 85 percent came from individual donors, not corporations.
In other action Monday, the court:
• Ruled that state sentencing laws cannot require that juvenile murderers receive life imprisonment with no chance of parole. The ruling allows such sentences in individual murder cases, but the 5-4 decision written by Justice Elena Kagan ruled “that mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’”
• Declined to review an order that a 1950s war-memorial cross be taken down from public land on the San Diego coast. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled the 29-foot Mount Soledad cross, which also features walls displaying more than 2,000 commemorative veterans plaques, was a government establishment of religion.
• Agreed to hear an appeal of a 9th Circuit ruling that said mud runoff from logging roads constitutes “pollution.” The court ordered the federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate such mud to protect salmon in streams.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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