Citizens United Supersedes State Laws: Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations to spend unlimited money on elections, superseded a Montana law that limited corporate election spending.
by | June 25, 2012

By a 5-4 summary decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations to spend unlimited money on elections, superseded a Montana law that banned corporate election spending in state and local races.

The Montana Supreme Court earlier this year upheld a state law that prevented businesses from making donations to political candidates and political action committees. The U.S. Supreme Court effectively overturned the Montana statute, agreeing with the petitioners that Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission applied to the state law and, in effect, took precedent over it.

The decision was released jointly by the members of the Court's conservative block (Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito). The more liberal justices (Associate Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan) dissented, but didn't call for the case to be argued orally before the Court because they did not anticipate the Court's majority would change its position.

The majority decision was less than one page. "The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does," the five justices wrote.

American Tradition Partnership, the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement that the decision demonstrated that "politicians cannot outlaw political speech to create a favorable political environment or because they simply don't like the speaker." The group also repeated its call for Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Attorney General Steve Bullock to resign.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia filed a brief in May, siding with Bullock and arguing that states should be allowed to set their own rules for campaign finance.

“Allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of shareholder money from the corporate treasury -- rather than from the individual bank accounts of that corporation’s officers and key employees -- is bad for our democracy, bad for the integrity of our elections and contrary to common-sense,” Bullock said in a statement last month as the case went to the Supreme Court.

As Governing detailed in its May Issue, there is evidence that Citizens United is already having a impact on state elections. During the 2011 Wisconsin recall elections, $34.5 million of the $43.9 million in campaign spending came from outside special interest groups.

The majority and dissenting opinions are below.


More from Politics