On Friday evening, the U.S. Supreme Court halted a Montana Supreme Court decision that upheld the state’s century-old law prohibiting corporations from spending money to influence elections. The Brennan Center released the following statement from Senior Counsel Adam Skaggs:
"The Supreme Court’s decision to stay the well-reasoned, thorough decision from Montana’s high court is disappointing, but the Court now has an opportunity to reconsider the real-world consequences of Citizens United—and the devastating effect it has had on our democracy. As Justices Ginsburg and Breyer suggested yesterday, Montana’s experience with corruption—to say nothing of the flood of nominally “independent” spending by Super PACs in the current election—cannot be reconciled with Citizens United’s statement that independent spending cannot corrupt. By giving Montana its day in court, the Court can—and should—reconsider whether the ill-conceived Citizens United opinion should continue to be the law of the land.”
Although Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act is similar to the federal scheme held unconstitutional in Citizens United v. FEC, the Montana high court found that the state’s unique experience with political corruption justified the state’s tight restrictions on corporate electioneering. By staying the lower court’s decision—an extraordinary measure—the Court signaled the likelihood that it will hear the Montana case on its merits.
Should Montana receive the chance to defend its law before the Supreme Court, it will have the opportunity to present an extensive evidentiary record of wholesale capture of Montana elections by corporate interests, often through spending that was formally independent of candidates. The record in this case is dramatically different from the factually threadbare record considered in Citizens United, and compels a different conclusion. Moreover, as the final authority on Montana law, the Montana Supreme Court’s conclusions of the compelling reasons justifying Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act are entitled to considerable deference.
If the Supreme Court chooses not to lift the stay and allow Montana’s law to stand, it must give the state a full and just chance to defend its law through thorough briefing and argument. In this way, the Court can consider not only the factual nuances presented by Montana’s history with corruption, but can also reconsider whether its misguided Citizens United opinion should remain.
To set up an interview with the Brennan Center’s money in politics and Supreme Court experts, please contact Erik Opsal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 763–234–5907, or Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at email@example.com or 646–265–7721.