It's a safe bet that a ruling by the Montana Supreme Court has rarely if ever triggered a demonstration in the nation's capital. But that is what happened at noon today, when Common Cause and other campaign reform groups rallied in front of the Supreme Court in hopes that a Montana decision will trigger a reversal of the high court's controversial 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
As a result of Citizens United, the political system has been taken over by "billionaire political investors," Common Cause president Bob Edgar (pictured at right) told a crowd of about 100 on the sidewalk in front of the Court. The decision gave First Amendment blessing to unlimited corporate and union independent expenditures in election campaigns. The Republican primaries have already demonstrated the impact of the decision, said Edgar, with millions of dollars flowing to so-called super-PACs. Those groups will only grow and have major influence over both presidential and congressional races in the fall, he said.
Signs carried by the nearly 100 demonstrators carried slogans such as "We do blame SCOTUS," "Citizens United: Worse than Dred Scott," and "Stand with Montana." Other groups participating were the Coffee Party and Free Speech for People, among others.
Last December, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a longstanding state law ban on corporate independent expenditures, in spite of the Ctizens United decision. Groups challenging the Montana law asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the decision and to allow corporations in that state to exercise their free speech rights as protected in Citizens United.
On Feb. 17, the Supreme Court agreed to stay the Montana decision, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer issued an unusual statement accompanying the stay order. She said that experience both in Montana and elsewhere since Citizens United has made it "exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations 'do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,'" as stated in the 2010 ruling. Ginsburg expressed the hope that a high court review of the Montana ruling would give justices the opportunity to decide whether Citizens United should remain in effect "in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates' allegiance."
That statement by Ginsburg and Breyer energized the demonstrators to rally, according to several speakers today. "Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, we think you're right," said Edgar, a former member of Congress. If the high court does not reverse Citizens United, Edgar said, the next step would be to push for a constitutional amendment.
Photographs by Diego Radzinschi