Political Animal


June 25, 2012 9:16 AM Back of the Hand To the States on Campaign Finance

By Ed Kilgore

In a bit of a surprise to Court-watchers who figured the Supremes would agree to hear an appeal to a Montana Supreme Court decision upholding an ancient state corrupt practices law against a challenge based on Citizens United, it instead summarily reversed the Montana high court on a 5-4 vote. The majority’s brief, per curium decision treated the matter as fairly self-evident.

It’s reasonably clear the Court’s conservative majority wants to place campaign finance reform efforts, old or new, into a deep freeze. The contemptuous dismissal of Montana’s argument as barely worth the telling—despite four Justices disagreeing—was one way to get that across.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • zandru on June 25, 2012 10:28 AM:

    Okay. (sigh) That means it needs to be a Constitutional amendment.

    On the plus side, an amendment could also serve to strip corporate entities of some of their excessive "human" rights, limiting them to only those specifically enacted by statute. On the minus side, watch out for right-to-lifers trying to get rid of that inconvenient reference to "born" citizens.

  • stormskies on June 25, 2012 10:30 AM:

    As if we needed more information about just how evilly corrupt these five 'supreme' pigs are. Their collective wet dream is to re-create our country to be nothing more than a oligarchy, a plutocracy, and a fascist country in which the 99% percent are nothing more than indentured servants to the corporations, and the oligarchy.

    These evil pigs already are aware that about 80% of our country knows that their decisions are politically based. And yet their arrogance of self importance and the certainty that they are right just doesn't give a fuck.

    This is just more evidence of how corrupt our country has become.

  • Robert on June 25, 2012 10:31 AM:

    Ohhh, we are so screwed. If this court is not politically corrupt, ethically bankrupt, and morally deficient, I will eat my laptop.

  • Skip on June 25, 2012 10:37 AM:

    Aren't conservatives all about state's rights over Big Government, yet here state laws are overturned, when it's convenient to do so, to uphold a conservative-approved Judicial decision on Citizens United (a bad decision to begin with) and not only that but the justices will only be reviewing Citizens United since there is "no prospect the majority will reconcider" it.

    Funny how little what comes out of their mouths, match conservative actions. Good thing in this day of information, so few notice the disparity. -sigh-

  • RepublicanPointOfView on June 25, 2012 10:42 AM:

    The Supremes are correct to be contemptuous of the Montana legislatures and courts. After all, everyone agrees with the Supreme who said (I paraphrase) that the buying of politicians and political access will never create the appearance of corruption!

  • howard on June 25, 2012 11:02 AM:

    contemptuous is the perfect word choice for the scalia/thomas/alito/roberts wing of the court.

  • t-rex on June 25, 2012 11:04 AM:

    This is what eight years of Bush accomplished. Four years of Romney will finish the job, and put an unbreakable majority of young justices in place who owe their souls to Grover Norquist.

  • c u n d gulag on June 25, 2012 11:06 AM:

    And this, ladies and gentlemen, is "The Roberts Rubber-stamp Fascist Five" in all of their Corporatist, Oligarchical, Plutocratic, glory!

    Image if Mitt becomes President, and can not only keep that 5-4 "Fascist Five," but increase it to 6-3, 7-2, 8-1, and eventually 9-0, majorities - of all young Conservative judges.

    I think it's time we stop calling members of the Supreme Court "Justices."

    Or, at least 5 of them.

    'Cause there ain't no justice in 'em, or about 'em!

    If Obama wins, we might still be able to thwart the "Fascisting" of the SC - albeit with "Centrist" judges.

    If Mitt wins, we can close the book on the grand experiment in representative democracy that is/was America.

    Get a fork ready - we're about done.

  • Texas Aggie on June 25, 2012 11:22 AM:

    If there is only one reason to work and vote for Obama, it is here. We have to get at least one of those right wing activists out of there and replace him with someone who isn't motivated by their connections with the right wing. Heritage Foundation members need not apply.

  • advocatethis on June 25, 2012 11:23 AM:

    The message from the court here is that it's okay for them to stand stare decisis on its ear, but they won't tolerate other courts calling their decisions into question.

  • Rick B on June 25, 2012 11:28 AM:

    This is all about power to the very wealthy, the corporate executives (who are the very wealthy or those hangers-on they select), and the bankers (also dominated by the very wealthy.) They have already bought five Justices on the now illegitimate Supreme Court who are now in the process of giving the power of America to those best born and bred to handle it.

    Corporatist, Oligarchical, Plutocratic? Yep. And they control the various conservative political institutions to get the power their class lost during the Depression.

    Power and money gravitate towards power. The example in a rural agricultural economy is where a few bandit leaders gain control of the land and then use that control to dominate all society. That was called feudalism, and the emerging mercantile society of the European cities had to overpower it in order to grow and develop our modern industrial society. What we are seeing now is the same dynamic of power and wealth gravitating to power held by a few dominant (and somewhat interlocked) families.

    The potential dictatorial power of the Supreme Court was too great for them to resist. Now they (and their puppets in the Federalist Society) have bought that. This per curium decision designed to cut off all discussion demonstrates that very, very clearly.

    Court packing appears to still be an option. Make it large enough and the wealthy will find it harder to control.

  • Skip on June 25, 2012 11:29 AM:

    How can mandated health insurance be any more immoral and unconstitutional than mandated car insurance or mandated house insurance under lien holders? I get that these types of insurance protect the corporation who is holding your mortgage or car loan. Doesn't mandated health insurance help similarly, or does that part of ACA somehow take profits or business away from the corporations?

    I am not a lawyer (no duh, right), but if the mandated health insurance aspect of the Affordable Care Act gets overturned, would that open the door to filing suit against the unconstitutionality of mandated insurances of any kind? Feel free to set me straight if this is somehow wildly different from anything else consumers are forced to buy.

  • Pankaj on June 25, 2012 11:31 AM:

    Re-electing Obama is of paramount importance. Why can't some of the older justices like Ginsburg and Breyer retire so Obama can replace them in next few months. It is not going to get any easy getting justices approved after next election and if Obama does not win, the age old will one day force Ginsburg and Breyer to think about retirement. You cannot cheat old age and death.

    Bush put Alito and Roberts who will be around at least 30 years

  • c u n d gulag on June 25, 2012 11:44 AM:

    Because the R's in the Senate will filibuster anyone Obama puts forth this close to an election.

    Last year, he might, MIGHT, have been able to have done something - but I still think he'd have been stymied somehow or other until after the 11/12 election.

    The R's smell blood.

  • boatboy_srq on June 25, 2012 12:56 PM:

    I seem to recall an article published right after Citizens United that quoted some SC justice who was surprised at the hoopla around the decision. Apparently there were some Supes who assumed that the decision simply identified a shortcoming in campaign finance law, and by deciding as they did they (again) assumed Congress would rectify the problem; instead, Congress took the apparent freebie and ran with it.

    I'm disappointed in SCOTUS for abdicating their responsibility as they have, but I do understand some of why the less ideological conservative Supes act as they do: adhering to a pre-Jay ideal of SCOTUS, they point out the shortcoming and expect that Congress (who, in their minds, is the appropriate body to address these things) will do something about it. With the recent Congresses packed with God's Own Teahadists, it's no surprise that they take SCOTUS' deference to Congress (as the actual lawmakers) as license to act out instead of being responsible.

    I'm not trying to let SCOTUS off the hook here. SCOTUS as a body has seen Congress attempt some pretty horrible things, and it's taken Supes to rein in the worst impulses of that body; by falling back on an "advise and consult" role, and by playing "umpire" as CJ Roberts has stated is the role of the Court, they allow the worst behavior from Congress possible under the Constitution and only intervene when some Article or Amendment is materially breached. That attitude, given the wayward nature of Congress, has to be stricken from the Court speedily and permanently if any continuity is to be maintained. But it is telling what "strict constructionist" justices are capable of, not only in their actively engaged decisions for Reichwing policies, but also in this case in their unwillingness to act in opposition to clearly undesirable outcomes simply because the Constitution does not state outright that they can contravene legislators.

    There's a common-sense component missing from the Conservatist justices that nobody seems to talk about outside wingnut decisions like Citizens United: not the tendency to make Conservatist decisions (that's amply debated), but the equivalent tendency to enable Conservatist legislation because there's nothing explicitly called out in the Constitution to inhibit that legislation. The US is famous for a "there oughtta be a law" approach to morality - but the last thing we need is a SCOTUS that operates from that perspective, especially if it allows patently immoral actions in public (like they buying of elections, the suppression of voting, and in the willingness to allow citizens to die of preventable illnesses made inevitable thanks to the expense of treatment) simply because there's no specific inhibition in the Constitution for them.

  • Truthbetold on June 25, 2012 1:32 PM:


    Since the ruling by the Court also protects unions and their campaign funding. How can you justify the unlimited campaign funding by corporations who have successfully banned the formulation of labor unions?

  • pea on June 25, 2012 9:50 PM:

    The Montana ruling seems like a lethal punch to the gut.

    If only real Citizens could Unite and OCCUPY the SC -- but that's unlikely to happen. Is there any way to impeach any of the Fab 5 or overturn their rulings? Or increase the number on the court? Or....

    Is there any way out of this hole?

    WAMO, Please discuss ideas about serious, viable options we have -- or is the game now fully over?

  • Rick B on June 26, 2012 2:31 AM:


    Are you aware of the law that says unions have to have a vote of their membership before it is legal to contribute money to a political campaign?

    There is no similar law limiting corporations in what they contribute money to so Target is perfectly free to contribute to the most homophobic candidate in the race.