Montana's Campaign Speech Law Overturned
Justice Anthony Kennedy's swing vote aided constitutional conservatives as the Supreme Court summarily reversed a decision of the Montana Supreme Court, which held that the U.S. Court's Citizens United decision did not apply to Montana. Citizens United held that the government could not criminalize speech simply based on the corporate identity of the speaker: "When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful."
The Montana Supreme Court attempted to evade this First Amendment rule by asserting the state had an unusual danger of political corruption that justified speech restrictions. Although four justices would have reviewed Citizens United -- the real purpose of the case -- the majority noted that there was nothing so uniquely awful about Montana as to warrant a special exemption from the First Amendment.
Of course, corruption, or the appearance of it, is a legitimate concern. But the way to prevent it is to constrain not citizens' right to speak, but government's capacity to dole out special favors. For so long as the government can write half-billion-dollar checks to failing energy companies or rewrite contracts while restructuring automobile companies to benefit union allies, there will be the potential for corruption. When government follows neutral standards rather than retaining discretion through loophole-laden legislation, the risk of apparent corruption will no longer support an attack on First Amendment freedoms.