SCOTUS decision on free-speech and campaign contributions.

Did you see that SCOTUS ruled on campaign contributions?  Apparently, the Supreme Court says that the !st Amendment, free-speech rights, permit corporations and labor unions to spend money on political campaigns.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, which reads in part that there is "no basis for allowing the government to limit corporate independent expenditures."

"There is no basis for the proposition that, in the political speech context, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers," he wrote. "The government may regulate corporate speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether."

The case was sparked by a movie made during the last presidential campaign: "Hillary: The Movie".

Dissenters – big surprise here –  included Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

Thus, McCain-Feingold has been eroded.

This has not been a good week for the White House or Congressional democrats.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. moon1234 says:

    They also need to roll back the restrictions on any negative ads against a candidate 60 days before an election. The other party can basically lie thru their teeth and any other candidates can not respond or suffer prosecution.

    The democrats are really the party of state control and not about free speech.

  2. moon1234 says:

    Sonia Sotomayor is Catholic in name only. She would choose the state over her faith is forced to do so.

    [Ya know…. that is just an irrelevant cheap shot. We know she doesn’t practice her Catholic faith. What on earth does that have to do with the SCOTUS decision?]

  3. EXCHIEF says:

    And may they continue to have many bad weeks ahead. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch

  4. Martial Artist says:

    But, it has been a good week for citizens and their political liberty. To God belongs the praise.

    Keith Töpfer

  5. kat says:

    I guess I’m not too up on this one. When I first heard the news this morning, and learned that it allowed unions to put as much money as they want into campaigns, I took it negatively. I know where union money goes, and it’s never in the right place. My dad worked for Chrysler. When he would get his union paper saying who they wanted him to vote for, he knew those were the ones NOT to vote for. But maybe corporations might be more fiscally conservative? And maybe they would have more pull than the unions? I don’t know.

  6. TJerome says:

    Obama came out and blasted this decision today. That’s all I need to know that it was the correct one. Tom

  7. Central Valley says:

    Just like in Holy Church…….the usual suspects. If only people realiszed how inportant it is to vote for conservatives. Supreme Court appointments are for life, as are all federal judges. Thank God for our Catholic justices.

  8. Central Valley says:

    I will be interesting to see which way the unions go in 2010 and 2012. Barry Inc. have killed many american jobs. Each month the job numbers get worse.

  9. chironomo says:

    When I first heard the news this morning, and learned that it allowed unions to put as much money as they want into campaigns, I took it negatively


    via various workarounds, unions have been able to donate money to political causes in ways that corporations cannot do. Thus, this ruling actually allows corporations to now do what unions have been able to do for some time. As some commentators have noted, it “levels the playing feel” for both unions and corporations. Even though it treats all entites equally, it ends up favoring one party (Republicans) more than another( Democrats) because traditionally Republican supporters were more heavily restricted in McCain Feingold.

  10. EXCHIEF says:

    The fact that it levels the playing field certainly explains why obama is so unhappy with this decision

  11. kat says:

    I’ve heard more about it since my last post, so the ruling makes more sense to me now.

  12. Luis says:

    And the POTUS responds to the SCOTUS…
    “With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. … We are going to talk with bipartisan congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision.”

    You can’t Mr. President, the Constitution of the United States won’t let you! Unless you can get the Court to overturn Marbury v. Madison, your out of luck. The Hermaneutics of Constitionality!

  13. Luis says:

    I meant Constitutionality…

  14. Penguins Fan says:

    The entire McCain-Feingold law should be struck down or repealed. It was a garbage bill and it’s a garbage law. McCain was a coward to back it and Bush was a coward to sign it.

    This is good news. What is needed is the IRS needs to be reined in regarding politicians speaking at churches and on church property.

  15. gloriainexcelsis says:

    And Chuck Schumer wants an investigation???? of the Supreme Court???? These people should read the Constitution at least once.

  16. mpm says:

    At the risk of sounding naif, what is the “good” being served here?

    Personally, I believe that it is a bad thing for corporations to be given “free speech rights” on a par with those of living, breathing human beings. In my formulation, it includes all corporations.

    If anyone thinks that “corporations” are dominated by red-blooded, dyed in the wool, good old-fashioned American patriots, they just haven’t gotten out enough, IMO. When George Soros spends checks on his favorite causes, I want to see his signature on the check, not some “people for the American way, Inc”. Same for Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, and all the rest of them.

    I don’t want AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time-Warner, GE, FHLMC and FNMA, and all those “legally fictitious persons” influencing policy in order to ensure their own continued place at the public tit, and to be assured that they can continue to charge ridiculous monthly fees for commodity-like services, just because they are providing “added value” (in their opinion) to the customer (whether he or she wants them or not).

    The same for “unions”, another form of “legally fictitious person”, run by “managers” for their own self-interest, and who make 4-5 times what the rank-and-file make.

    I don’t think the Founders, people like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, people who were not apologetic about their own personal business interests, ever dreamed that anonymous pools-of-wealth and influence, would eventually be given the same rights to seek redress from the government as they had in their sole-proprietorships and partnerships, where their personal security was at risk and on the line.

    Therefore, I don’t think this ruling is all that “traditional”, and I can’t think why Sotomayor ought to be singled at as far as her faith is concerned, about her dissent in this decision.

    I think this topic needs to be studied and debated much more widely than it has been.

    Is the approval manifested here primarily of the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” variety?

  17. Peggy R says:

    A good week for liberty and vindication of our Founding Fathers’ ideals!

    I was astounded by the 60 day limits in McC-F and am glad to see them struck down. Now private citizens and citizen groups, as well as profit-making corporations, may have their say even on election day. What part of “Congress shall make no laws…” limiting free speech do the lefty yahoos not get?

    Praise be to God, indeed.

  18. chcrix says:


    The good is that no group or organization should be prevented from speaking for their point of view. Secondly, money is fungible and there are already a bevy of ways that it sluices into the system. This decision makes it more honest in the sense that nobody’s pretending. Remember that restrictions on political speech once established in law can be turned against new targets. It is the same reason that we want rule of law for justly accused criminals.

    As far as influence goes: Much influence peddling goes through the Washington lobbying establishment with congress critters / dod / other bureaucrats moving freely back and forth between the government and lobbyland.

    I hate to tell you, but if one were a (rational) establishment liberal by now one would realize that BOH is no different from GWB. Just more telegenic. Is there even 1 implied promise that BOH has delivered on to his constituencies? As the old saying goes no matter who wins the government will be re-elected. Think of the complete absence of any progress on any conservative issues when the Republicans held house, senate, and presidency. The game is rigged.

  19. Random Friar says:

    I’m not sure how I see this. Loopholes and workarounds are common enough. If this makes it easier to see where that money is coming from… Bah, I don’t know how to go.

  20. LarryD says:

    “With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

    In other words….”The very entities and corporations I am attempting to destroy have a voice again, bringing actual competition against the SEIU and other unions. Let me be perfectly clear – I cannot and will not allow the Constitution to stand in my way.”

    Too the teleprompter didn’t have the translated version.

  21. SonofMonica says:

    I am as absolutely orthodox Catholic as they come, and this is a TERRIBLE decision! I am a lawyer and this jurisprudece is every bit as baffling to me as Roe v. Wade. Apparently, the fictional legalese of a corporation being a “person” can be used to allow greedy multinational corporations with NO loyalty to the United States to buy elections… yet these supposedly Catholic justices can see no way to find personhood in order to protect defenseless human life from greedy, racist organizations like Planned Parenthood. That’s right, we live in an America where Planned Parenthood is a person and a baby is not. I am no leftist, but his is a fascist decision by any measure.

    What else do I propose? If a corporation wants to spend an unlimited amount of money on an election, then at the very least, they must be located in the USA, with all plants and operations in the USA, or at least a VERY high majority of all assets and labor located in the USA. What’s fair for real persons to have a vote is fair for these multinational corporations. If they want to be real persons, they should have to be real citizens to get a vote.

    If you think this decision is in any way pro-American, you are kidding yourself. This decision allows foreigners to determine the outcome of an election. Think it through.

  22. LarryD says:

    errrgghh Should read “Too bad the teleprompter didn’t have the translated version.

  23. SonofMonica says:

    mpm, you are absolutely, 100% correct.

  24. mpm says:


    Well, 100% is perhaps too high. But I agree with you 100% that there is a distinct danger now that foreign interests can incorporate for $125, and have right at it.

    Corporations have a theoretically infinite lifespan. How much money could you accumulate over such a lifetime in order to get your way?

    All rhetorical questions, of course, but worth thinking through.

  25. A Sinner says:

    “I am a lawyer and this jurisprudece is every bit as baffling to me as Roe v. Wade. ”

    Perhaps this will serve to clarify:

    Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech (U.S. Const. amend. I).

  26. Felicitas says:

    If you think this decision is in any way pro-American, you are kidding yourself. This decision allows foreigners to determine the outcome of an election. Think it through.

    If this is the case, then start a movement to draft a new amendment to the Constitution to fix the problem; then start a movement to get the states to ratify it. McCain/Feingold was clearly unconstitutional. The proper channel to take care of that is not to expect our lawmakers ignore the Constitution just because it feels right.

  27. Brian Day says:

    A lot of people are thinking of corporations in terms of “Big Bad Corporations”. Maybe there are a few, but there are lots of non-profits that do good work that organize as corporations for tax benefits and the ability for efficient operation.

    Why punish the good guys just because of the perceived evils of a few “bad” corporations? An unintended consequence is that unions will now get the same benefit. But as others have already pointed out, the unions already have ways to get around the limits.

    Remember, disclosure and disclaimer requirements remain, so union and corporate ads will be identified as much. Now small non-profits will have the same benefit as the big boys. Overall, this is a good thing.

  28. TJerome says:

    I’m sorry to learn you’re a lawyer because you obviously haven’t read the US Constitution or if you have you clearly don’t understand it.Unlike Roe v Wade which was made out of wholeclothe out of some alleged “penumbra” the US Constitution expressly allows free speech, the people to petition their government, and to be fully engaged in the political process. McCain Feingold was bad law and was designed to protect incumbents in Congress if you haven’t figured that out yet. I’ve been practicing law for over 30 years, with a JD and an LLM, in one of the Country’s most prestigious law firms and and if I heard from my young associates the arguments and reasoning you posed I would have you fired.

  29. Hans says:

    SonofMonica, I’m only a poor dumb physicist and not a lawyer, but I don’t understand your reasoning here. If one needs to be a ‘person’ to have free exercise of speech, then one would equally have to be a ‘person’ to have free exercise of religion. That would mean that, as individual Catholics, we could exercise our religion, but the “institutional Church” as a corporation could be restricted or suppressed.

    Allowing this provision to stand would have been a disaster.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

  30. Hans says:

    gloriainexcelsis wrote, “And Chuck Schumer wants an investigation???? of the Supreme Court???? These people should read the Constitution at least once.

    He’s about 37 years late, isn’t he? There should have been an investigation after Roe v. Wade.

  31. mpm says:

    I have tried to summarize the reasons given by those who find this SCOTUS decision to be a “good thing” below:

    (1) Restores our freedoms under the First Amendment. As a practitioner at a prestigious law firm puts it, “the US Constitution expressly allows free speech, the people to petition their government”. As others put it, McCain/Feingold was unconstitutional.

    (2) Protects the Church’s freedom to teach, because the “institutional Church” is “incorporated”;

    (3) There are good and bad corporations. Corporations are just ways for people to mutually associate in order to pursue common, usually commendable, purposes;

    Let me respond to them thus.

    At the level of practicing in the consitutional law arena, I have no argument about whether it is a good decision. So #1 gets a pass, because it does not address the deeper issue that I, and I think “SonOfMonica”, are addressing. One need not be a lawyer, prestigious or otherwise, or a physicist, to read and comprehend the constitution.

    The Church is incorporated as a fictitious person under the laws of the United States, not because that is part of her constitutive mandate from Christ (“be ye subtle as a corporation”), but because it conforms with the way things are done legally in the United States. The Catholic Church in theological reality does have a REAL “persona”, but that persona is not a citizen of the United States, and could not care less about abiding by its laws. Each bishop in his diocese acts in that persona, and could do so, irrespective of corporation law. So, # 2 is also irrelevant to the deeper issue.

    #3 does bear directly on the issue. The deeper issue is this: Was the Bill of Rights, added to the Constitution itself before ratification, and ratified along with it, drawn up to safeguard the rights of the people, i.e., natural persons, human beings, or to safeguard the rights of the people and all their works and pomps, including the “fictitious persons” they choose to create?

    If you take the latter view, then I ask why can they not vote, why are they not citizens? I think the reason is obvious, but then why do we think that “corporations”, are endowed by the Constitution with the right of citizens to seek redress of grievances from the government?

    The simple, legal, positivistic, answer is this: “Because SCOTUS, long ago, gave them that status”. The deeper question before us really is: “Is that really justifiable, or in the light of current circumstances of global businesses and international political pressure, should it be re-visited, in a national conversation or debate?”

  32. Luis says:

    With all due respect mpm, (and I too am an attorney) the reason the decision is “good” is because it upholds the constitutions ban on gov’t interference on the freedom of speech. Congress cannot pick winners or losers when it comes to political speech. If there is a ‘bad’ corporation trying to change the political direction of the USA, form your own corporation (get others as did Citizens United) and speak out against…. There really is a hermaneutic to the consitutional law which it appears the SCOTUS used (I haven’t read the entire opinion yet since its 183 pages) but that is that the State is there to serve society and not vice versa. Individuals are given status, dignity and rights by the Creator, not the State. Congress simply has no power to due what they were trying to do in this case. Now if Hans could explain general relativity to me I’d really appreciate it : )

  33. mpm says:


    I think I stipulated that when I covered argument #1 @ 22 January 2010 @ 6:11 am.

  34. SonofMonica says:

    TJerome – If you would fire an associate for using a creative argument that you don’t happen to agree with, then I question your supposed credentials, and would never work for you in the first place. In this instance, I am being an advocate for my “clients,” America and Jesus Christ, and I’m doing that pro bono. There is no legally “correct” answer about whether this decision is in comport with the Constitution because the answer is not expressly contained in the wording of the Constitution itself, despite some persons’ assertions that it is somehow covered under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. The Free Speech Clause says absolutely nothing about the freedom to spend an unlimited amount of money on a political campaign, and it says nothing about protecting the free speech rights of non-citizens of the United States and non-persons. The Constitution does not explicitly give any rights to a corporation, much less make it a person. The Supreme Court has read (without using the word “penumbra” this time) these concepts into the Constitution and its precedence. But the decision is correct because it is final, not final because it is correct. If you really had 30 years of practicing law, you would understand that basic concept about Supreme Court precedence and the difference between opinions and merely reading the words of the Constitution. So, you may believe that the Free Speech Clause covers money spent on a campaign by non-citizen, non-humans using foreign money and not necessarily subject to the complete body of U.S. law and its sovereign principles, but I disagree. And I say this concept has been read into the Constitution in the same liberal way that the right to privacy was read into the Constitution in Roe v. Wade. The Constitution does not say one way or the other in either case. I think it is the same thing as allowing an Iranian to vote (and a good case can be made that it’s the same thing as letting him run) for President. Attorneys fight over these types of things, and it’s what keeps them in business. I’d be happy for you to e-mail me the name of your firm so that I can be sure never to go to work for you. I’m new to this website, so if you can’t obtain my e-mail through its machinations, let me know and I will post it here.

  35. SonofMonica says:

    Luis — I agree with what you are saying about rights coming from our Creator and not the State. But God created human beings, not international corporations, not democracy, and not our Constitution. Our court system created the legal fiction that corporations are persons with respect to limiting the legal liability of its officers acting in the name of the corporation, and now has chosen to carry that legal fiction into matters that affect the very roots of our democracy. None of these rights are created by Divine Power. They are creations of the Nation’s judiciary, meant to solve problems specific to the corporate realm. That’s it.

    I propose that if you just want to look at random clauses in the Constitution like the Free Speech Clause and use it to justify a decision like this, then I am free to say that the Equal Protection provision of the Constitution provides that each corporation must only be able to spend the same amount, because everyone is entitled to the same amount of free speech under the law, and we have to be equal. Now you are free to tell me I’m nuts (and probably rightly so) if I make such an argument. But you have to, in turn, recognize that I am free to say that you are nuts if you think that the Free Speech clause entitles foreigners to buy our elections and international corporations to use money from investments in foreign militaries to control the airwaves, stifling my own, American voice.

    I propose that any right a corporation may have as a fictional person ends where it affects my rights as an actual person. My rights are given from God. This country belongs to human beings. The issue isn’t whether people can band together and spend money as away of “speaking” about political views–they can, according to the Supreme Court, and I agree with that line of jurisprudence. If a corporation is formed for that purpose and is made up of Americans, I have no problem with it. But again, that isn’t the issue.

    The issue is whether a corporation which is NOT formed for such a purpose, but is formed for, let’s say, creating military hardware, and which is legally required to act only in the monetary interests of its SHAREHOLDERS and not the Country as a whole, or any good purpose (which it is legally required to do), and the shareholders of which may be members of FOREIGN governments or supporting FOREIGN militaries or employing virtually no Americans at all, should be allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections by clogging the various forms of media with information that may or may not be true. The question is whether that “right” is “clearly” enumerated or implied in the Constitution. You will find no more staunch supporter of the First Amendment than myself, and I firmly maintain that such a “right” is not guaranteed by the Constitution.

  36. Luis says:

    MPM, Let’s try it this way… my cursory read of the decision seems to suggest that individuals don’t lose the protection of the First Amendment when they act though a group or association such as a corporation. It is the individual and the institutions they create to organize themselves that have rights. And corporations do have a vote, each individual member who is a citizen of the USA can cast a vote! You are mixing the jurisprudence of “voting rights” with that of the First Amendment.

    The framers knew about corporations so the suggestion that this is some 20th Century novelty is absurd. (Examples, The Dutch East India Company (1602) Hudson Bay Company (1670))

    SonofMonica: There is no legally “correct” answer about whether this decision is in comport with the Constitution because the answer is not expressly contained in the wording of the Constitution itself, despite some persons’ assertions that it is somehow covered under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.


    “I am as absolutely orthodox Catholic as they come, and this is a TERRIBLE decision!” By TERRIBLE, I suppose you mean bad or not comporting with the proper understanding of the Constitution?

    Why shouldn’t individuals keep their First Amendment protection from State interference when they form associations and groups in order to organize?

  37. Luis says:

    “The issue is whether a corporation which is NOT formed for such a purpose…” and you trust the State, rather than public opinion, to determine who’s has an authentic purpose for organizing? I don’t.

  38. TJerome says:


    Supreme court “precedence?”


  39. Luis says:

    I think I just pointed out that YOU said YOU were nuts : ) Listen, I think we need to digest the entire opinion in context. But on the whole if you frame the holding as I did, that individuals First Amendment Rights do not disappear when they form groups or corporations in order to organize then what is the problem with that? If George Soros pays for some pro Obama ads then do something about it. And now you can form a corporation to spend as much as it has in order to counter George Soros!

  40. robtbrown says:

    Obama came out and blasted this decision today. That’s all I need to know that it was the correct one. Tom
    Comment by TJerome

    After the latest electoral drubbing, President Obama is now trying to portray himself as a populist–anti-bank, corporation, insurance company, etc.

  41. SonofMonica says:

    Tom – the “dictionary” is your friend. Or try Wikipedia. It’s obvious you’ve never practiced law.

    Luis – Do Iranians have free speech rights in America? Is it okay for an American corporation whose officers are based in Iran to spend Iranian cash to influence an American election? Again, I have no problem with Americans incorporating to present a unified view with as much cash as they muster. That isn’t the problematic issue. The problematic issue is whether the Supreme Court extends its legal fiction such that /any/ corporation is a /person/ for the purposes of campaign finance. And I propose what I feel is a sensible limit on the extension of that legal fiction. And note, it is based upon the same principle that you are basing your argument. That Americans do not lose their free speech rights by choosing to assemble and/or incorporate. But what about individuals who are not citizens of this country or subject to its laws or who may be our enemies? Should they be able to influence and distort the political process? What about when the dollar is exceptionally weak? Have you considered what effect the fluctuation of exchange rates could have on a political election? Do you understand fiscal policy and concepts like “cheap money,” or would I be spinning my wheels posting anything more about these issues? So, I repeat, if the Court chooses to limit its holding to organizations of American individuals, using American money to influence American elections, I’m fine with it. I’m even fine with domestic organizations of individuals attacking Hilary Clinton right before election day. Big fat deal. That’s a way of attacking free speech. I get it. What I’m against is dangerously broad and ill-conceived interpretations of what constitutes a “person” and the Court making what arguably amounts to foreign policy.

  42. SonofMonica says:

    Hans – it is the free exercise clause that protects Church’s right to practice religion and exempts them from taxation. But this is not based upon the Church itself being considered a “person” for religious purpose. It turns on whether religion is being practiced, not on who is practicing it. In other words, it matters not whether it’s an individual person or an institutional church who is practicing religion. It is the practice of religion itself that is protected; not the one doing it.

    In fact, the free exercise clause doesn’t protect an institutional church when it chooses to support a political candidate. When churches support political candidates, they can and do lose their tax-exempt status. It happens. The law does not turn on whether the Church is a “person” but whether it is practicing religion or practicing politics. The former is protected on an individual and corporate basis; the latter is not.

  43. robtbrown says:

    Some interesting comments above:

    1. The US did not invent the concept of Juridical Person. For example, parishes in CIC are juridical persons although the diocesan organization in US Civil Law suppresses that fact.

    The question at hand is whether a JP, which does not have voting rights, has the right to influence a campaign.

    2. My understanding is that the unborn are currently considered as persons in the laws of most states, e.g., estate law and criminal law (nb: Scott Peterson was convicted of the murder not only of his wife but also of her unborn child). Obviously, abortion law contradicts those laws.

    3. I notice that some seem to think this SCOTUS decision now permits foreign countries to influence US elections. In fact, this would be nothing new. My understanding is that even before the SCOTUS decision it was possible to establish and finance advocacy groups that are oriented toward issues rather than candidates. I don’t know of any reason why those groups could not run ads indirectly favoring a candidate by directly promoting issues.

    4. Further, a rich contributor like, say, George Soros, can give $1000 to multiple candidates, thus permitting the national party to load up on one candidate.

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