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Profile: Montana Supreme Court

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Montana Supreme Court was a participant or observer in the following events:

Rodney Skurdal, a leader of the “Montana Freemen” movement (see 1993-1994), files a 20-page treatise with a Montana court that claims the Freemen are the descendents of the true Anglo-Saxon “chosen people,” and that the land occupied by the United States was promised to them by God. Skurdal, who signs the document “the honorable Justice Rodney O. Skurdal,” writes: “In reading the Bible, one must understand that there are ‘two seed lines’ within Genesis. It is the colored people, and the Jews, who are the descendants of Cain… when We move into a new land, We are to kill the inhabitants of all the other races… nor are We to allow the other races to rule over us.” Skurdal writes extensively of the Freemen’s opposition to governmental rule of any sort, justifying it by referencing his interpretation of Biblical teachings: “We, Israel, must obey God only; not man-made laws by our purported Congress and state legislators and/or the United Nations, under the purported ‘new world order’ i.e., ‘Satan’s laws.’” Skurdal adds that taxes, marriage licenses, driver’s licenses, insurance, electrical inspections, and building permits are all instruments of Satan’s law. He writes that the “land of milk and honey” bequeathed by God to whites is actually the territory now considered the United States, and notes, “If we the white race are God’s chosen people… why are we paying taxes on ‘His land.’” Michael Barkun, a Syracuse University professor and expert on radical Christian ideologies, will call Skurdal’s treatise “pure Christian Identity” (see 1960s and After). This theological claim to land, Barkun will say, goes further than a lot of other Identity adherents do. “What’s unusual here is that this isn’t simply a kind of collective granting of a piece of soil by God to his people, but it’s a kind of literal granting of ownership and control: Because we are his people and this is his land, no one can tell us what to do with it,” Barkun will observe. [Washington Post, 4/9/1996; Chicago Tribune, 4/19/1996] Skurdal has come to the notice of Montana legal authorities before. At one point he had legal actions going simultaneously in every one of Montana’s 56 counties. He has succeeded in getting to the Montana Supreme Court three times over traffic tickets. When the state judiciary ruled that Skurdal’s legal filings were frivolous and could not be accepted without being signed by a lawyer, Skurdal merely mailed his writs and documents to out-of-state agencies, which, assuming the documents were misdelivered, returned them to Montana authorities, where they were filed. After four years of dealing with Skurdal’s legal court cases, Musselshell County Attorney Vicki Knudsen quit her job. One of Skurdal’s filings was a “Citizens Declaration of War” which claimed foreign agents were surreptitiously infesting “the country of Montana.” Another accused county officials of attempting to help institute a New World Order (see September 11, 1990). “Once a court accepts one of these asinine Freemen things,” Knudsen later says, “it’s in the system. Everybody named in it becomes involved [and] has to respond. It’s not funny. It’s not romantic. It’s scary.” Knudsen is referring to the threats issued by Skurdal and his fellow Freemen towards herself and other county officials over their filings. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Montana Supreme Court, Michael Barkun, Montana Freemen, Vicki Knudsen, Rodney Owen Skurdal

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The New York Times publishes an overview of the ongoing criminal trials of the Montana Freemen (see 1993-1994, March 25, 1996, June 13, 1996, and March 16, 1998 and After), and calls the proceedings “an absurdist drama that could be called Alice in Wonderland on the Yellowstone River.” Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer, indicted for multiple counts of civil fraud and threatening federal officials (see March 26, 1996), recently announced himself as “Supreme Court Justice LeRoy Michael” in a court hearing, and told the judge: “Supreme court is in session. You are removed from the bench under impeachment.” Most of the Freemen are refusing to cooperate with either the court officials or their own defense lawyers; some of them had to be compelled to give fingerprints and be photographed for booking. Defendant Daniel Petersen, indicted along with Schweitzer and a third Freeman, Rodney Skurdal, disrupted a recent proceeding by shouting that the “Supreme Court of Yellowstone County” was now in session, and yelled at the judge and prosecution, “I’m charging all of you with misprison of treason and misprison of felony.” Defendant Steven Hance (see June 14, 1996) told one judge, “I am above the Constitution,” called the judge “an outlaw,” and informed him, “You are out of order.” Hance’s two sons, James Hance and John Hance, answered their indictments by belching at the judge; James Hance told the judge: “You’re going to be impeached. How are you going to feel about that?” and his brother added: “You’d better start obeying the law, sir. You’re incompetent.” Another defendant, Dale Jacobi, accused the judge of holding “blood sacrifices.” During a North Carolina trial of one Freeman, Russell Landers, the judge at that trial ordered Landers—defending himself—to cease his rambling opening statement, threw him out of the courtroom, and had him watch his trial by closed-circuit television; in his turn, Landers claimed he was being held hostage by a foreign power and accused the judge of wearing a black robe to disguise his real identity as “a Roman tribunal.” One judge, Charles Lovell, recently said that Schweitzer has “no business in the courtroom unless he is chained and taped,” and banned him from the courtroom. The defendants are routinely expelled from the courtroom for their antics. They call themselves “white Christian men” who are, by definition, “sovereign American naturals” and therefore not subject to United States laws and courts. They hold that their system of “common law” (see Fall 2010) places them above the “ordinary” American judicial system. The judges have uniformly ignored the Freemen’s arcane legal claims, which the New York Times calls “a salad of the Uniform Commercial Code, the Magna Carta, biblical admonitions, and meaningless Latin phrases.” Lovell called Schweitzer’s legal defense “nonsensical” and added, “This is preposterous, absolutely preposterous—it has no more bearing in law than an ounce of sand.” The Montana Supreme Court threw out 37 pages of Freemen court documents as “nonsensical filings,” and another judge called a Freeman’s legal arguments “bunkum.” While similar trials of right-wing militia figures have drawn numerous protesters agitating on behalf of the defendants, the Freemen are drawing a vanishingly small number of supporters; “sympathizers are rare, and protest placards have not been seen in more than nine months,” the Times observes. [New York Times, 3/25/1997]

Entity Tags: Montana Freemen, Dale Jacobi, Charles C. Lovell, James Hance, LeRoy Schweitzer, Montana Supreme Court, New York Times, Steven Hance, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Russell Dean Landers, John Hance

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Montana Supreme Court rules 5-2 in the case of Western Tradition Partnership v. Bullock that a century-old law prohibits corporate spending in state and federal elections conducted within the state. The ruling seems to challenge the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010). The case stems from a challenge by a “social welfare organization,” Western Tradition Partnership (WTP, which changed its name to American Tradition Partnership after the original lawsuit was filed), joined by two other corporate entities, to Montana’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act (CPA). The law banned corporate spending in elections, after two out-of-state copper industry magnates attempted to “buy” the Montana legislature by pouring money into the 1894 state elections. The law declares that “corporations may not make… an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.” The Montana Supreme Court finds that the CPA is needed to ensure the integrity of Montana’s elections, and to make sure that citizens and not corporations are running the state. However, the Court acknowledges that its ruling conflicts with the Citizens United decision, though it says that the Citizens United decision allows for restrictions on corporate political speech if the government can demonstrate that the restrictions are as minimal as possible to achieve a compelling governmental interest. The Montana Court rules that because of Montana’s history of corporate vote-buying and the narrow restrictions of the CPA, the law should stand. It also notes that Western Tradition Partnership argued in its original suit that disclosure laws, as opposed to outright bans, would serve the public interest and guard against corruption; however, the organization is currently involved in another lawsuit in which it argues that those same disclosure laws are unconstitutional restrictions of the freedom of speech. [Western Tradition Partnership v. Bullock et al, 12/30/2011 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 1/4/2012; Reuters, 6/25/2012; OMB Watch, 6/25/2012; Washington Post, 6/25/2012; OMB Watch, 7/10/2012] Even one of the dissenters, Justice James C. Nelson, disagrees with the Citizens United characterizations that corporations are legally people, writing: “Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people—human beings—to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creatures of government. Worse still, while corporations and human beings share many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency, and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons.” WTP’s director Donald Ferguson says after the decision that the case hinges on freedom of speech (see January 21, 2010): “The current state law says that if you own a business and you would like to use the resources of the business to speak out about how you see the law, you essentially have to ask prior permission from the state. Under the current regime, the state regulatory agencies and the newspapers basically have a monopoly on information. We’re simply trying to put more free speech in motion.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/4/2012; Huffington Post, 1/4/2012]
Legal Scholars Anticipate Montana Ruling to be Overturned - Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center calls the Montana high court’s ruling “an antidote to the crabbed view of corruption” displayed in Citizens United. Ryan, like many others, anticipates the US Supreme Court will overturn today’s ruling. [Huffington Post, 1/4/2012] One of those others is law professor Richard Hasen, who writes: “[I]f the Court were being honest in Citizens United, it would have said something like: ‘We don’t care whether or not independent spending can or cannot corrupt; the First Amendment trumps this risk of corruption.’ But the Court didn’t say that, because it would have faced even greater criticism than it already has. So it dressed up its value judgment (no corruption ‘implied in law’) as a factual statement. The Montana Supreme Court called SCOTUS [the US Supreme Court] on this. And when SCOTUS reverses, the disingenuousness of this aspect of CU will be on full display for all.” Hasen is referring to the Court’s finding in Citizens United that independent spending in elections does not legally imply corruption. [Rick Hasen, 1/1/2012]
Appeal to Supreme Court - Attorneys for WTP and the other corporate plaintiffs will appeal to the US Supreme Court on the grounds that Montana is bound by the Citizens United decision and that the decision applies to state as well as federal elections. Attorney James Bopp, in filing the appeal, will say: “If Montana can ban core political speech because of Montana’s unique characteristics, free speech will be seriously harmed. Speakers will be silenced because of corruption by others over a century ago.” The US Supreme Court will quickly issue a stay of that decision. [Reuters, 6/25/2012; OMB Watch, 6/25/2012] When the case reaches the US Supreme Court, the name of the plaintiff will change into “American Tradition Partnership,” and the Court’s documentation will reflect that change. The Court will overrule the Montana decision (see June 25, 2012). After the decision, American Tradition Partnership’s Web site will disappear, but the liberal accountability organization SourceWatch will describe the organization’s parent, the American Tradition Institute, as described in the group’s mission statement: “a public policy research and educational foundation… founded in 2009 to help lead the national discussion about environmental issues, including air and water quality and regulation, responsible land use, natural resource management, energy development, property rights, and free-market principles of stewardship.” ATI and its affiliates are pro-development and against expanded environmental regulation, according to SourceWatch’s documentation, made up of “a broader network of groups with close ties to energy interests that have long fought greenhouse gas regulation.” [SourceWatch, 2012]

Entity Tags: American Tradition Institute, American Tradition Partnership, Donald Ferguson, James C. Nelson, 1912 Corrupt Practices Act (Montana), SourceWatch, US Supreme Court, Paul S. Ryan, Montana Supreme Court, James Bopp, Jr, Richard L. Hasen

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Dahlia Lithwick, the senior legal correspondent for Slate, muses on the likelihood that the US Supreme Court will overturn a recent decision by the Montana Supreme Court that upheld the state’s limits on corporate election spending (see December 30, 2011 and After). The Montana high court’s opinion directly contradicts the 2010 Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). Lithwick notes that some Republican primary candidates are learning to their sorrow just how effective corporate spending can be when it is turned against them, citing Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who was targeted by almost $5 million of super PAC spending on negative ads against him in the recent Iowa caucuses (see January 3, 2012). Much of that came from a super PAC supporting Gingrich’s rival Mitt Romney (R-MA). Lithwick also cites a recent column by liberal columnist Ruth Marcus “explaining all the ways in which the super PACs are both coordinating with campaigns and evading federal disclosure requirements” (see January 3, 2012). Marcus wrote that the Citizens United decision set the stage for just the kind of negative, coordinated attacks seen in Iowa, and allowed the political system to be overwhelmed by corporate-funded entities that are not publicly accountable (see January 4, 2012). The probability for historic levels of corruption was overwhelming, Lithwick writes, and entirely foreseeable (see October 17, 2011). Lithwick notes conservative legal scholar Eugene Volokh as saying the Montana high court’s decision “practically begs to be overturned at the Supreme Court.” But the Montana high court, citing specific evidence showing the potential for corruption in the plaintiff’s actions (including a fundraising brochure that promised donors “no politician, no bureaucrat, and no radical environmentalist will ever know you made” any donations), found that the limits on corporate electoral spending are necessary to keep corruption at bay. Lithwick concludes, “I think what we just saw in Iowa and Montana proves again that corporations aren’t really people, money isn’t really speech, and that saying so isn’t just a way of speaking truth to power.” [Slate, 1/4/2012]

Entity Tags: Montana Supreme Court, Dahlia Lithwick, Eugene Volokh, Ruth Marcus, US Supreme Court, Willard Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The decision of the Montana Supreme Court to uphold Montana’s ban on corporate donations to political campaigns (see December 30, 2011 and After), which directly contradicts the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), is being appealed to the US Supreme Court. The plaintiffs, American Tradition Partnership (ATP) and the other two corporate entities that joined ATP in the original lawsuit, ask Justice Anthony Kennedy to issue a stay on the Montana high court verdict while the Supreme Court considers the appeal. In their application for a stay, the plaintiffs write: “The Montana Supreme Court held the ban constitutional despite the holding in [the Citizens United decision] that ‘[n]o sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations.’ Immediate relief is needed to prevent irreparable harm to the corporations’ First Amendment free-speech right. Montana’s primary elections are on June 5, making it vital that planning begin now for independent expenditures before the election.” The application also asks Kennedy to refer the matter to the Court, have it treated as a petition for review, and then summarily reverse the Montana Supreme Court. James Bopp, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, writes, “The lower court’s refusal to follow Citizens United is such an obvious, blatant disregard of its duty to follow this Court’s decisions that summary reversal is proper.” In a statement, Bopp adds: “Unequivocally, Citizens United means that corporate independent expenditure bans are invalid under the United States Constitution. The Montana Supreme Court has shirked its responsibility to follow that decisions and the United States Supreme Court should reverse their ruling.” The other two parties involved as plaintiffs are the Montana Shooting Sports Association and Champion Painting Inc. At least five justices vote to issue the stay, though an official decision to accept the case on appeal is still pending, and the Court has not spoken on the subject of summary reversal. Two justices who dissented from the Citizens United case, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, agree that the Montana Supreme Court’s decision should be reviewed, but in a statement attached to the stay order, add: “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’ A petition for certiorari will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway. Because lower courts are bound to follow this Court’s decisions until they are withdrawn or modified, however, I vote to grant the stay.” The stay allows Montana corporations to donate without restriction to super PACs operated on behalf of electoral candidates. [Legal Times, 2/10/2012; SCOTUSBlog, 2/17/2012; US Supreme Court, 2/17/2012 pdf file] The US Supreme Court will strike down the Montana ruling (see June 25, 2012).

Entity Tags: Montana Shooting Sports Association, American Tradition Partnership, Anthony Kennedy, James Bopp, Jr, Stephen Breyer, Champion Painting Inc., Montana Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the US Chamber of Commerce file amicus curiae briefs with the US Supreme Court urging it to reverse the Montana Supreme Court’s support for Montana’s ban on corporate financing of political campaigns (see December 30, 2011 and After). The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) has already filed such a brief. Former officials of the ACLU, along with advocacy groups such as Free Speech for People, have filed an amicus brief asking the Court to review the decision. Many observers have predicted the Court will overturn the Montana high court’s ruling (see January 4, 2012) because it seems to conflict with the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010), but a summary reversal—in essence, a decision without allowing the two sides to present arguments—would be somewhat unusual. Four justices are required to accept the case for review, while five must vote for summary judgment. The Court issued a stay on the Montana court’s decision soon after its issuance (see February 10-17, 2012). The case is American Tradition Partnership, et al., v. Bullock. CU lawyers have asked the Court to protect the ruling it issued in the case bearing its name, accusing the Montana court of “constitutional mischief” and advising the Court to “reaffirm its position as the final arbiter of the Constitution’s meaning” by summarily reversing the Montana court’s decision. On the other side, the ACLU officials and other briefs have urged the Court to review its Citizens United decision, saying the ruling is “in serious doubt” because of “massive” spending in the 2012 federal campaigns “by corporations and wealthy elites.” The Free Speech for People brief focuses on the issue of spending by “independent” outside groups and individuals since the Citizens United decision (see January 21-22, 2010, March 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, September 28, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, October 30, 2011, December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 10, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, and March 26, 2012), and says the massive spending undercuts the rationale for the decision: “In view of the increasingly dominant role of corporate and private independent expenditures in our electoral politics, this Court should grant certiorari and reexamine whether its long-standing precedent permitting regulations designed to prevent the use of wealth from drowning out other voices provides an additional basis for upholding restrictions on independent expenditures.” The Free Speech for People brief also argues that the Court should use the American Tradition Partnership case to rule that corporations are not entitled to the protections of the First Amendment free speech clause or other provisions in the Bill of Rights. CU lawyers have argued that the Citizens United decision is not the issue, but the Montana high court’s decision to uphold its state ban on unlimited corporate spending because of what the CU brief calls “Montana’s supposedly unique history, geography, politics, and economy.” The CU brief continued, “The Montana Supreme Court’s state-specific analysis makes this case an exceedingly poor vehicle to reexamine the broader constitutional questions settled in Citizens United.” The US Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United should bind Montana as well as the other 49 states, the CU brief argued, saying that “state courts—like federal courts—have an unwavering obligation to uphold the Constitution of the United States and follow this Court’s decisions until they are withdrawn or modified.… They are not freed from that constitutional obligation where the decision of this Court is controversial or unpopular, where it was rendered by a divided Court, or where state officials disagree with the decisions as a matter of policy.” Instead, the brief claimed, Montana’s high court has promulgated “a transparent attempt to circumvent the application of this Court’s precedent to a state statute that is materially indistinguishable from the federal prohibition on corporate independent expenditures struck down by this Court in Citizens United. Such constitutional mischief should proceed no further.” The liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that Senator McConnell, who files a brief urging summary reversal today, has argued against campaign finance reform for a decade, and was one of the plaintiffs in an unsuccessful 2002 lawsuit attempting to reverse a legislative ban on corporate donations (see December 10, 2003). And, it notes, the US Chamber of Commerce is one of the biggest donors in the 2012 elections. [Lyle Denniston, 5/1/2012; Think Progress, 5/2/2012] The Supreme Court will indeed overrule the Montana high court’s decision (see June 25, 2012).

Entity Tags: US Chamber of Commerce, Citizens United, Free Speech for People, Mitch McConnell, US Supreme Court, Montana Supreme Court, Think Progress (.org)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Writing for the Atlantic Wire, John Hudson notes the angry draft dissent penned by retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter in the process of the Citizens United decision that accused Chief Justice John Roberts “of engineering the outcome of the” case, as revealed in a New Yorker article by Jeffrey Toobin (see May 14, 2012). Hudson says that while many people would be interested in Souter’s unpublished dissent, they will not be able to read it any time soon. Souter has donated all of his Court documents to the New Hampshire Historical Society, where they will remain closed for 50 years. Law professor Richard Hasen makes a similar observation on his Election Law Blog. He also notes that Toobin’s account verifies much of his previous speculation as to why the Court chose to re-argue the case rather than issue an opinion after the first set of arguments (see March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009)—Roberts and the other conservatives wanted to establish a clear guideline in the arguments for overturning campaign finance law. Hasen writes, “Perhaps one day in my lifetime some justice’s papers (but not Justice Souter’s) will reveal Justice Souter’s draft dissent.” [Atlantic Wire, 5/14/2012; Rick Hasen, 5/14/2012] Two days later, Hasen writes a column urging Souter, or another justice such as the also-retired John Paul Stevens, to release Souter’s draft dissent, even as he concedes such an event is unlikely to happen. Hasen says that Souter’s dissent may cast light on the pending Supreme Court decision over the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to “thumb… its nose at Citizens United by holding that Montana could bar corporate money from elections, given the state’s history of corruption” (see April 30, 2012). Hasen says although it is all but certain the Court will reverse the Montana high court’s decision, “Justice Souter was one of the Court’s most passionate and articulate thinkers about campaign finance, and his dissent in Citizens United likely makes a top-notch argument for the constitutionality of corporate spending limits—an argument that’s directly relevant to the Montana case. Airing his dissent could help arguments against Citizens United we already have, in the published dissent of Justice Stevens, which is somewhat meandering and ineffective—not one of his best. Souter’s retirement is no reason for him to keep quiet.… Justice Souter cares deeply about campaign finance—why not make this his continuing cause?” Hasen continues: “The Souter opinion also might reveal just how far the conservative justices on the Supreme Court were willing to go to reach out and grab Citizens United. The Court is decidedly not a place in which justice-umpires simply call balls and strikes, and Souter could remind us of that in the run-up to June’s rulings on health care reform and Arizona’s immigration law. Better to have a clear understanding of how ideology plays into some of the Court’s decisions than to preserve an illusion of pure lawyerly analysis.” Hasen concludes that releasing the dissent “isn’t about airing the Court’s dirty laundry. It’s about telling the truth about how the Court handed down Citizens United and making the best argument for why it should be overturned—and that would be a real public service.” [Slate, 5/16/2012]

Entity Tags: Montana Supreme Court, Jeffrey Toobin, David Souter, John G. Roberts, Jr, John Paul Stevens, Richard L. Hasen, John Hudson, New Hampshire Historical Society

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia join a brief filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asking the US Supreme Court to reaffirm Montana’s ban on corporate spending. The brief is in response to an upcoming Court hearing on the Montana Supreme Court’s upholding of the Montana ban, which contradicts the 2010 Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010, December 30, 2011 and After, January 4, 2012, February 10-17, 2012, and April 30, 2012). The brief is signed by Schneiderman, a Democrat, and 22 other attorneys general, both Democrats and Republicans. In the brief, Schneiderman writes, “The Montana law at issue here, like many other state laws regulating corporate campaign expenditures in state and local elections, is sharply different from the federal law struck down in Citizens United, and the Court need not revise its ruling in Citizens United in order to sustain the challenged Montana law.” Referring to briefs asking the Court to reverse the Montana high court ruling without a review, Schneiderman writes, “Even if the challenged Montana law were identical to the federal statute struck down in Citizens United—and, as shown below, it is far from identical—disposing of this case on the merits would require a fully considered analysis that takes these constitutional distinctions into account.” The states with Democratic attorneys general include Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. States with Republican attorneys general include Idaho, Utah, and Washington. [International Business Times, 5/21/2012; Think Progress, 5/21/2012]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Montana Supreme Court, Eric Schneiderman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court, without hearing arguments, strikes down a century-old Montana ban on corporate spending in elections (see December 30, 2011 and After), effectively reaffirming its Citizens United decision to allow unlimited, untraceable corporate spending on elections (see January 21, 2010). Some observers expected the Court to temper its original finding in the Citizens United decision, but such is not the outcome. The case, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, originates in Montana’s 19th-century ban on corporate spending in elections. In December 2011, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the law (see December 30, 2011 and After), finding that the Citizens United ruling allowed for restrictions on corporate political speech if the government could demonstrate that the restrictions were as minimal as possible to achieve a compelling governmental interest. Today, the US Supreme Court rules 5-4 that the Montana Supreme Court’s argument is invalid, saying there is “no serious doubt” that the Citizens United ruling supersedes Montana state law. Two dissenting Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, argued for the case to be presented to the Court, viewing the case as “an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.” However, the Court’s conservative majority strikes down the Montana Supreme Court’s decision and invalidates the CPA. Breyer writes in his dissent, “Even if I were to accept Citizens United, this Court’s legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court’s finding, made on the record before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana.” The next recourse for Montana citizens is Ballot Initiative I-166, which would establish that corporations are not people in Montana and would call on Montana’s Congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. [American Tradition Partnership, Inc., FKA Western Tradition Partnership, Inc., et al v. Steve Bullock, Attorney General Of Montana, et al, 6/25/2012 pdf file; SCOTUSBlog, 6/25/2012; Reuters, 6/25/2012; OMB Watch, 6/25/2012; OMB Watch, 7/10/2012] Democratic campaign lawyer Marc Elias says of the decision: “To the extent that there was any doubt from the original Citizens United decision broadly applies to state and local laws, that doubt is now gone. To whatever extent that door was open a crack, that door is now closed.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that the Court is “[f]or apparently political reasons… further tipping the balance of power in America in favor of deep-pocketed, outside interests.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) calls the decision an “important victory for freedom of speech.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2012]

Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Mitch McConnell, Marc Elias, Charles Schumer, Montana Supreme Court, US Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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