The Montana Supreme Court on December 30 launched a headlong frontal assault on the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens United v. FEC. We predict that the U.S. Supreme Court will make quick work of this frivolous and misguided opinion.
Montana’s high court has scheduled oral arguments for September in Western Tradition Partnership’s so far successful effort to undo Montana’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act. The group challenged the act last year in wake of the high-profile U.S. Supreme Court case known as “Citizens United” that threw out parts of an old federal law prohibiting corporations and unions from paying to air ads for or against political candidates.
The group argues that a ban on corporate political “speech” is unconstitutional.
CCP submitted an Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court of the State of Montana last week regarding a case challenging the constitutionality of Montana’s law prohibiting independent corporate expenditures. The ban was struck down by the Citizens United ruling, which found that independent corporate expenditures are protected under the First Amendment.
“Montana’s Attorney General continues to defend a law that blatantly contradicts Citizens United, expending precious state resources in the process,” said CCP Legal Director Allen Dickerson. “Montana is the only state in America that did not conform to the ruling.”
The Attorney General’s brief argues that Montana is specifically vulnerable to corruption and their current laws, which would otherwise violate the First Amendment, are necessary to ensure that the state is not overrun by corporate interest.
“Being a resource-rich state is not grounds for exemption from the First Amendment,” said CCP President Sean Parnell. “Resurrecting as a bogeyman the long gone Copper Kings doesn’t justify limiting political free speech in Montana.”
“This is a case where one of the fifty states believes it deserves an exemption from the First Amendment, relying on arguments that the Supreme Court has found unpersuasive,” said Dickerson. “The Montana Supreme Court should take this opportunity to emphasize that we live in a nation of laws, and that the Constitution applies everywhere, equally.”
Now, I have said publicly a couple of times that I don’t think Citizens United necessarily controls in jurisdictions where history and experience indicate certain industries or kinds of corporations pose distinctive threats in politics. Citizens United does require that those jurisdictions have to show that a BAN on independent spending is a tailored response to a genuine threat, and that’s a pretty difficult argument to make.
What Montana is attempting to argue is that all corporations pose this threat. Not explicitly – Bullock acknowledges that the state’s corporate expenditure ban comes out of a history of political struggles involving mining companies. But the litigants in the present case involve a small painting business and a conservative advocacy group – both, as corporations, prohibited from making expenditures in Montana.