In one of the most eagerly awaited decisions of the year, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to limit Congress’s authority to regulate corporate spending on election campaigns. Yesterday’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision reversed previous Court rulings and invalidated campaign finance reforms. It sparked a flurry of public criticism that is sure to continue for years to come.
The New York Times Room for Debate Blog printed an informative piece illustrating a wide range of reactions to the decision. Advocates for freedom of speech argue that the restriction on corporate spending was an infringement on free speech: Brooklyn Law School professor Joel M. Gora referred to yesterday as “a great day for the First Amendment.” Others claim that this decision represents a huge loss for the democratic process. Brennan Center for Justice Director Michael Waldman asserted that the Supreme Court “reached into the political process to hand unprecedented power to corporations.”
Erwin Chemerinsky, legal scholar and dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, reflected on the potential impact of this ruling in an interview with NCRCR in September:
“If the Supreme Court were to hold that contributions can’t be restricted then there will be the ability of wealthy corporations, wealthy individuals, to donate enormous amounts of money to get their candidates of choice elected. I think the Supreme Court was right in what it said in Buckley v. Valeo that large contributions inherently risk corruption and the appearance of corruption. And I think that’s very much what we’re going to see in the future, if even mega-corporations can spend tremendous amounts of money to change the outcome of elections.”
To what degree the influence of business interests will trump the interests of the American people remains to be seen. In any event, though, this ruling clearly reflects the important role the courts play in shaping our society.
(Photo by runJMrun.)