Citizens United

  • January 22, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Nancy Northup discusses the continued threats to women’s reproductive rights 42 years after the decision in Roe v. Wade at MSNBC.

    ACS Board of Directors Member Linda Greenhouse argues in The New York Times that the debate over same-sex marriage in the Republican party will not end with the Supreme Court’s ruling on the issue.

    David A. Graham at The Atlantic considers how a ruling on same-sex marriage could reintroduce outdated ideas of nullification from Republican leaders.

    Nina Totenberg reports for NPR on the protests at the Supreme Court on the anniversary of the Citizens United ruling.

    At Bloomberg News, Greg Stohr and David McLaughlin write about oral arguments for the Supreme Court case that considers the future of the Fair Housing Act.

  • January 21, 2015
    Guest Post

    by John Bonifaz, Co-Founder and President of Free Speech For People

    Five years ago this month, the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, sweeping away longstanding precedent barring corporate money in our elections and leading to an explosion of outside spending in our political process.  The ruling also sparked a new movement for a constitutional amendment to end the big money dominance of our elections and to reclaim our democracy.  That movement has gained significant momentum, with 16 states and more than 550 cities and towns on record calling for an amendment.  And, last September, the U.S. Senate held an historic vote on the Democracy For All Amendment, which would allow Congress and the states to set overall limits on campaign spending in our elections.  54 Senators supported the proposed amendment, a vote that reflects the power of this growing grassroots movement.

    As this movement continues to gain strength, conventional claims made by opponents deserve renewed scrutiny.  Here are five major myths related to this call for a 28th Amendment to the Constitution.

    Myth #1: The First Amendment protects the right to drown out other people’s speech.

    In its 1976 ruling in Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court equated money with speech and struck down campaign spending limits passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal.  The ruling set us on our current course today of unlimited campaign spending where our elections are sold to the highest bidders.  But, as former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has said, “Money is property; it is not speech.”  Money, in fact, amplifies speech, and for the very wealthy in our society, money enables them to be heard at the loudest decibels at the expense of the rest of us.  The campaign spending limits at issue in Buckley were reasonable regulations on the manner of speech, not on speech itself.  By equating money with speech, the Buckley Court sanctioned a system which allows the very wealthy – and now corporations – to distort our political process and the very meaning of the First Amendment.

    No one has a First Amendment right to drown out other people’s speech.  The Supreme Court stated this clearly in its 1949 case in Kovacs v. Cooper.  In Kovacs, a union in the city of Trenton was blaring its message with a sound truck going down every street.  In response, the city passed an ordinance requiring that sound trucks could only go down every third street.  The Supreme Court upheld the ordinance as a reasonable regulation on the manner of speech.  It found that public streets served other public purposes that needed to be protected and, as Justice Jackson wrote in his concurrence, “freedom of speech for Kovacs does not...include freedom to use sound amplifiers to drown out the natural speech of others.”  The DC Circuit Court of Appeals in the Buckley case recognized this very point in finding the campaign spending limits to be constitutional.  “It would be strange indeed,” the appellate court said, “if, by extrapolation outward from the basic rights of individuals, the wealthy few could claim a constitutional guarantee to a stronger political voice than the unwealthy many because they are able to give and spend more money, and because the amounts they give and spend cannot be limited.”  Campaign spending limits ensure that big money interests may not drown out the voices of everyone else in our political process.

  • December 29, 2014

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In an interview for Montana Public Radio, retired state supreme court Justice James C. Nelson urged more people to pay attention to the deluge of money being spent by politically conservative interests to shape the makeup of state courts, which hear and decide thousands of matters every year affecting all parts of our lives and communities.

    Nelson (pictured), speaking with MTPR News Director Eric Whitney, cited studies sponsored by ACS that show effects of the flooding of money from, primarily business interests into state judicial elections – 89 percent of all state court judges face voters in some type of election. And the financial impact, driven by politics or ideology, on the judicial system is not good.

    In the interview, which has aired over the last several days and runs a bit longer than 8 minutes, Nelson focused on research released in October by ACS, Skewed Justice. It showed, among other items, a disconcerting impact special interests are having on the outcome of criminal justice cases. (Nelson also noted the 2013 ACS-sponsored report, Justice at Risk as offering more evidence of the detrimental effect money is having on state supreme courts, which should be impartial.)

    Nelson, citing Skewed Justice, said it revealed that the more TV ads aired during state supreme court judicial elections, the less likely justices are to vote in favor of criminal defendants. Thus, special interests or as Nelson calls them dark forces, are at least putting a thumb on the scale of justice, so-to-speak. One that only the privileged in this country has the means to do.

    Listen to the interview here and read Nelson’s ACSblog post from earlier this year on the Supreme Court cases that have altered precedent, weakening a long tradition of campaign finance regulations in elections.

    [picture by Eric Whitney]

  • November 24, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In The New York TimesThe Editorial Board argues against current jurisprudence that could allow Texas to excute a mentally ill man. 

    Kathleen Sharp of Salon argues that post-Citizens United, the United States needs donor ID laws.

    In The Nation, Mychal Denzel Smith writes that protester suppression is happening in Ferguson even without a militarized police force.

    The blog for the Brennan Center for Justice features stories from the 2014 midterm elections that look at how voters were unfairly impacted by new voting restrictions.

    Joseph Tafani writes in the Los Angeles Times that judicial elections are getting even more political with the growth of campaign spending and references the ACS "Skewed Justice" report.

    In The Washington Post, Robert Barnes previews the upcoming oral argument for Elonis v. United States, a free speech case that considers how to treat threats on social media.

  • November 21, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, Thomas B. McAffee explains how religious freedom arguments about marriage equality miss the mark.

    Katie McDonough of Salon discusses how, in light of the growing number of states introducing abortion restrictions, women have begun sharing their abortion stories.

    Peter Beinart looks at President Barack Obama’s immigration announcement in The Atlantic, asserting that the executive order helps fulfill his promise to progressives.

    In the Huffington Post, Fred Wertheimer argues that Citizens United will go down in history as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions.