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Yes, Montana: Citizens United Applies to You, Too

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

In addition to its ruling in Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court issued its tenth summary reversal of the term yesterday in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock.

The case was a showdown between the Montana Supreme Court and the Nine on the merits of the Court's 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling. Last December, the Montana Supreme Court held in a 5-2 decision that the state had a compelling interest in continuing to enforce its Corrupt Practices Act, a voter-approved measure that has limited corporate campaign expenditures since 1912.

At the time the decision came out, Montana Justice James C. Nelson opined that the U.S. Supreme Court would strike down the opinion without a second thought because the ruling contradicts Citizens United. It turns out that he was right.

Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Montana Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote. In a per curiam opinion, the majority wrote, "The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does ... Montana's arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case."

The division among the justices remains mostly unchanged from the last time the Court heard arguments on the issue, though Justice Elena Kagan succeeded Justice John Paul Stevens, (who wrote the Citizens United dissent) in 2010. This time around, Justice Stephen Breyer was the voice of dissent for the Court, writing,

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. Given the history and political landscape in Montana, that court concluded that the State had a compelling interest in limiting independent expenditures by corporations.

There was speculation leading up to this decision about whether the majority had second-guessed its ruling after seeing the first group of Super PACs in action. Monday, the majority justices answered the naysayers, proving that they still stand by the two-year-old ruling.

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