Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

September 8, 2009

Supreme Court May Overturn Previous Rulings On Campaign Finance

by Doug Mataconis

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear re-argument in a case that could lead to a big change in campaign finance law:

The Supreme Court’s unusual hearing Wednesday on the role corporations can play in influencing elections carries the potential not only for rewriting the nation’s campaign finance laws but also for testing the willingness of the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to defy the decisions of Congress and to set aside its own precedents.

The court will consider whether the “proper disposition” of a case — pitting a conservative group’s scorching campaign film about Hillary Rodham Clinton against federal campaign finance laws — requires overturning two decisions that said government has an interest in restricting the political activities and speech of corporations.

(…)

Roberts’s instincts have been to move incrementally, Lazarus noted. But such a narrow and consistent chipping-away approach — Roberts and Alito have voted for every challenge to campaign finance laws since joining the court — may simply be a way to make more-sweeping decisions appear inevitable.

“I don’t think people should underestimate the chief justice’s ability to look down the road,” said Washington attorney David C. Frederick, who frequently argues before the court. “I think he’s got a larger constitutional vision. He’s relatively young and looking into the future.”

(…)

Roberts’s instincts have been to move incrementally, Lazarus noted. But such a narrow and consistent chipping-away approach — Roberts and Alito have voted for every challenge to campaign finance laws since joining the court — may simply be a way to make more-sweeping decisions appear inevitable.

“I don’t think people should underestimate the chief justice’s ability to look down the road,” said Washington attorney David C. Frederick, who frequently argues before the court. “I think he’s got a larger constitutional vision. He’s relatively young and looking into the future.”

The case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has already been heard once by the Court. However, in June, the Court took the somewhat unusual step of asking the attorneys for both sides to re-brief and re-argue to address the question of “whether the court should overturn its earlier rulings on limiting corporate and union contributions in federal elections.”

As I said at the time, this seems to indicate that there’s at least some sentiment on the Court for revisiting previous ruling and, perhaps, putting a stake into the heart of one of the most invidious pieces of legislation of the past decade.

One can only hope so, at least.

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