The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision Thursday will change the future of American elections. Two previous court precedents allowed Congress to robustly regulate campaign financing to limit the ability of corporations, labor unions and other groups to fund candidates. The reversal of this doctrine will have dramatic consequences for future elections.
Below are excerpts from the majority and minority opinions of Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and John Paul Stevens.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, for the majority:
“Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people … The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it.”
“Quite apart from the purpose or effect of regulating content, moreover, the government may commit a constitutional wrong when by law it identifies certain preferred speakers. By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The government may not by these means deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration. The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.”
“If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”
Justice John Paul Stevens, for the minority:
“The basic premise underlying the Court’s ruling is its iteration, and constant reiteration, of the proposition that the First Amendment bars regulatory distinctions based on a speaker’s identity,
including its ‘identity’ as a corporation. While that glittering generality has rhetorical appeal, it is not a correct statement of the law. Nor does it tell us when a corporation may engage in electioneering that some of its shareholders oppose …”
“The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case.”
“In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.”
“The majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past. … The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.”
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