by Nicole Flatow
The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down Montana’s 100-year-old anti-corruption law without ever hearing arguments in the case. Although Montana’s law was intended to combat corruption in election spending, the five-justice majority held in a paragraph-long decision that this case was controlled by Citizens United, which found that independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption.”
A supermajority of Montanans thought otherwise when they passed the Corrupt Practices Act in 1912. As Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissent in American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, “Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.”
Montanans have been battling corruption from outside interests looking to exploit the territory's vast natural resources since before they became a state, University of Montana law professor Anthony Johnstone explained during the American Constitution Society’s 2012 National Convention this month. To Montanans fighting to retain control of their democracy, the corruption was obvious, and they "called it as they saw it," Johnstone said. Here's how they did it:
Rather than looking to far-off courts or congressmen, they said enough is enough. And a supermajority of miners and farmers and businessmen, a Republican newspaperman from the small town of Fort Benton, who also happens to be my great great grandfather, got together and said, wait a second … this is popular sovereignty here.
You, our politicians in our corrupted capital do not govern us. You, our courts sworn to uphold our Constitution do not govern us. You, copper kings in your far-away mansions certainly do not govern us. We govern us. And so they did.