It's Citizens United all over again. On Monday, the Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 to summarily reverse the case of American Traditions Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, a ruling which in essence extends the 2009 Citizens united ruling to the states.
On an action-packed week in which SCOTUS is set to also issue rulings on the legality of Obamacare and the Arizona immigration law, the American Traditions v. Bullock decision reopens the debate on Citizens United and the legitimacy of Super PACs in this election year.
The case comes to the Court via the Montana Supreme Court, which upheld a law prohibiting independent corporate political expenditures, seemingly in defiance of the Supreme Court’s holding in Citizens United. Citizens United v. FEC is the infamous case which struck down provisions of federal election law which had prohibited independent organizations from running political advertisements within 60 days of a general election (or 30 days of a primary).
At issue in the Montana case was whether Citizens United applied only to federal election law, or if it extended to states. The Montana Supreme Court argued that the “distinct history of corruption, and nature of political discourse, in Montana” required a different analysis than the one for federal elections presented in Citizens United. Montana’s lawyers further asserted that Montana is not bound by Citizens United because the Montana law at issue “imposes far different obligations, and therefore affects corporate speech in a far different manner, than the federal law at issue in Citizens United.”
It was unlikely that the Court would ever rule in favor of Montana, given that they had just affirmed the case at a federal level in 2009. Still, liberals retained hope that the case had a chance. Instead, the Court's decision leaves liberals grasping for a next move.
According to Ahren Stroming, Citizens United may be the worst decision in the Court's history. He writes, "Certainly, in terms of gross disregard for humanity and blatant promotion of racism, cases like those described above achieve uniquely embarrassing levels of depravity. However, the decision inCitizens United vs. United States extends (relatively) localized injustices perpetrated in previous poor decisions to virtually the entire American public."
Where liberals go from here, however, remains to be seen. In the meantime, expect to see the level of Super PAC spending in the 2012 election ramp up at an unprecedented rate this election season (in states and at the federal level).