February 18, 2012 in Nation/World

Court puts hold on Montana election law

Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court served notice Friday that it will not let states or state judges casually defy its much-disputed ruling in the Citizens United case that gave corporations a right to spend freely on election campaigns.

The justices put on hold enforcement of a Montana election law. But the case could force the high court to reconsider the corporate spending issue if its liberal justices insist on doing so.

On Dec. 30, Montana’s high court said it was refusing to follow Citizens United as a binding precedent. Instead, the state justices affirmed Montana’s 100-year-old anti-corruption law that forbids corporations from giving to candidates or spending to elect them.

But the 5-4 majority court in Citizens United said the First Amendment protects independent political spending by corporations and unions. One Montana justice described as “utter nonsense” the Supreme Court’s view that lavish spending by corporations does not corrupt candidates or the election process.

However, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer said the court should reconsider the Citizens United decision “in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance.” Staunch dissenters two years ago, the two said “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since (the decision), make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,’ ” Ginsburg wrote.

It is not clear what will happen next. The four liberal justices could vote as a bloc and call for the court to hear arguments later this year on Montana’s defiance of the Citizens United decision. However, the five conservative justices could agree on a summary ruling that overturns the Montana state court.

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