In a brief unsigned decision, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to have another look at its blockbuster 2010 campaign finance decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In a 5-to-4 vote, the majority summarily reversed a decision of the Montana Supreme Court that had refused to follow the Citizens United decision. “The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law,” the opinion said. “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 four members of the court’s liberal wing dissented in an opinion by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who said that Citizens United itself had been a mistake.
“Even if I were to accept Citizens United,” Justice Breyer contined, “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.”
“Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so,” Justice Breyer added. The Montana Supreme Court had ruled that the state’s distinctive history and characteristics warranted a departure from the principles announced in Citizens United.