Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said his former colleagues may be having “second thoughts” about the reach of the 2010 ruling that let corporations spend unlimited sums on political campaigns.
Stevens, speaking at an event sponsored by the University of Arkansas in Little Rock last night, said he questioned whether the five-justice majority stood fully behind its statement that the Constitution’s First Amendment “generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker’s identity.”
Stevens dissented in the case, known as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and retired later that year. He made his comments as his former colleagues prepare to decide whether they will use a Montana case to revisit some aspects of Citizens United in the nine-month term that starts in October.
Stevens, 92, said he reached his conclusion about the majority’s doubts after reflecting on later rulings by the high court, including a one-line order this year that upheld a federal ban on campaign spending by foreigners.
Those developments “provide a basis to expect that the court already has had second thoughts about the breadth of the reasoning” in the majority opinion, Stevens said, according to prepared remarks released by the court.
Stevens also pointed to Justice Samuel Alito’s reaction at the 2010 State of the Union Address, when he mouthed “not true” as President Barack Obama criticized the just-issued Citizens United decision. Stevens said Alito, a member of the Citizens United majority, was probably reacting to Obama’s assertion that the ruling would let foreign corporations influence U.S. campaigns.
“Justice Alito’s reaction does persuade me that in due course it will be necessary for the court to issue an opinion explicitly crafting an exception that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion,” Stevens said.
The majority, the former justice said, will have to “explain its abandonment of, or at least qualify its reliance upon, the proposition that the identity of the speaker is an impermissible basis for regulating campaign speech.”