Former United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, 92, said during a Wednesday night speech that he’s convinced his former associates on the nation’s highest court will soon find it necessary to issue an opinion “that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion.”
Citizens United, a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2010 that reversed over 100 years of campaign finance law by permitting unlimited, anonymous money to flow into the U.S. political process, has been under attack by President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats, who’ve reluctantly embraced the super PAC system it created in order to fight off the Republican Party’s wealthiest supporters.
Speaking to the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service just a day after being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Stevens referenced Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, in which the Supreme Court decided that terrorist groups do not have free speech rights, and Bluman v. F.E.C., where Justices ruled that a Canadian attorney could not spend unlimited sums to influence U.S. elections.
President Obama said in his 2010 State of the Union address that if left unchanged, Citizens United could mean that foreign countries or corporations could also spend unlimited sums to influence the U.S. electorate — a claim that prompted a silent but obvious response from Justice Samuel Alito, who mouthed the words “not true” on camera. That reaction, Stevens said, led him to believe that soon the Supreme Court will no longer have a 5-4 majority support for the broad language of Citizens United.
“[In] due course it will be necessary for the Court to issue an opinion explicitly crafting an exception that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion,” he wrote. “For [Alito’s] statement that it is ‘not true’ that foreign entities will be among the beneficiaries of Citizens United offers good reason to predict there will not be five votes for such a result when a case arises that requires the Court to address the issue in a full opinion.”
“I think it is likely that when the court begins to spell out which categories of non-voters should receive the same protections as the not-for-profit Citizens United advocacy group, it will not only exclude terrorist organizations and foreign agents, but also all corporations owned or controlled by non-citizens, and possibly even those in which non-citizens have a substantial interest,” he added. “Where that line will actually be drawn will depend on an exercise of judgment by the majority of members of the court, rather than on any proposition of law identified in the Citizens United majority opinion.”
Should the Supreme Court fail to act in such a manner, a Democratic Congress just might. Obama and his Democratic allies have proposed a fix to Citizens United that forces the disclosure of super PACs largest donors, but Republicans have consistently blocked its progress.
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