One of today???s Supreme Court rulings concerned a campaign finance case, reaffirming the Citizens United decision by reversing a Montana Supreme Court ruling that banned corporate political donations. Montana law has blocked direct corporate contributions to political campaigns since 1912. This law was challenged on First Amendment grounds in 2011, but upheld by the Montana Supreme Court.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court invoked the Citizens United decision and reversed the Montana court???s ruling. The same justices who dissented from Citizens United ??? Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan ??? dissented from this ruling as well. In essence, the same Court answered the same question again, this time applying its ruling that ???political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation??? to the states.
As the Washington Post notes, Montana cited a history of ???rough contests for political and economic domination,??? involving huge sums of money spent by mining interests, as justification for its ban. A ???disappointed but not surprised??? Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) vowed to work for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision.
The Left has an unseemly hunger for suppressing speech they disagree with. Aren???t they the ones who usually sing the praises of a ???living Constitution???? Well, here is a classic case of history???s wheels turning, and carrying us across the horizon into a new era, in which old laws demanded new interpretation. Few things have changed more rapidly than the landscape of political speech, as few technologies have evolved faster than communications and data processing. Conditions in Montana are clearly not the same as they were in 1912.
The broader issue is the relationship between free speech and its delivery systems, namely campaign finance. It is often said that free speech doesn???t guarantee the speaker an audience??? but what about the megaphone? The restrictions struck down by Citizens United and its confirmation today amount to forbidding the denial of an audience.
And this denial is highly selective. The Left has no problem whatsoever with some corporate political speech, provided the corporation is ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, etc. There has never been, and never will be, a complete ban on corporate political donations. It???s more a matter of deciding which corporations are allowed to speak, and that process is inherently offensive to the First Amendment, which was not written to guarantee the right of politically favored individuals to speak in government-approved ways.
Despite our amazing advances in digital communications, we???re still basically living in an ???analog??? media world. The number of widely available media outlets has increased considerably, but it???s still limited. 500 cable TV channels is better than three broadcast networks, but real estate in mediaspace is still precious, and there???s a huge qualitative difference between major national networks and boutique cable TV channels. It is still necessary to rent those political megaphones from their owners.
That might not be true for much longer. Give the Internet another couple of decades to grow, and surpass the audience of television and radio, and who knows? It might be possible for those eeeeevil corporations to create and manage their own communications channels, to a degree currently impossible. How could ???corporate money??? be kept out of politics then, without expressly denying any reasonable interpretation of the First Amendment?
A vibrant democracy thrives on subversion. It has a bottomless appetite for ideas that run counter to the accepted wisdom of elites. It loves hearing loud voices that do not belong to the State or its allies. It knows that wisdom is found through argument, not obedience. In the absence of Citizens United, we enjoy only such ???free speech??? as Big Government and its worshippers have weighed, measured, and packaged for our consumption. No private company could corrupt our public discourse as much as Leviathan Incorporated already has.