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Supreme Court strikes down Montana law, reaffirming Citizens United

Voting 5 to 4, the justices found, in a two-paragraph opinion, that the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling applied to a 100-year-old Montana anticorruption law barring corporate money in elections.

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In a reaffirmation of its controversial Citizens United decision on campaign finances, the US Supreme Court on Monday struck down as unconstitutional a 100-year old Montana law that banned corporations from spending money to influence state elections.

The high court voted 5 to 4 to summarily reverse a December 2011 decision by the Montana Supreme Court upholding the state’s Corrupt Practices Act of 1912.

The 1912 ban on corporate money in elections was passed to prevent a return of the widespread corruption of the “Copper Kings,” when wealthy and powerful mining interests in Montana routinely bought judges, controlled newspapers, and bribed lawmakers.

The majority justices dismissed the Montana high court’s decision in a two-paragraph opinion.

“The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law,” the unsigned opinion said. “There can be no serious doubt that it does.”

In its 2010 decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the high court ruled that a federal ban on independent expenditures prior to an election violated the First Amendment rights of corporations and labor unions to engage in political speech free of government censorship.

“Political speech does not lose its First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation,” the court held.

The Montana high court ruled that the Citizens United decision did not apply in their state because Montana had a long history of election-related corruption that justified restrictions on corporate spending even a century later.


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