Sotomayor Expected to Favor Campaign Finance Restrictions
The upcoming re-argument of the case of Citizens United v. FEC, challenging corporate contributions to the financing of Hillary: The Movie, is raising some serious questions about whether the Supreme Court might vote to overturn decades-old restrictions on corporate campaign spending.
The vote of the Court’s newest justice on that issue, however, may be more predictable.
Although the issue in the case was originally relatively narrow — whether an “on-demand” video ought to be subject to the same restrictions as broadcast campaign advertising — the Supreme Court has asked both sides to re-argue the case next week, to answer a far more controversial and significant question: should the Court reverse its previous restrictions on corporate campaign financing on First Amendment grounds?
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, once a lawyer on New York City’s Campaign Finance Board who implemented campaign finance restrictions, isn’t likely to vote in favor of reversing those longstanding federal restrictions on corporate spending. She’s written in favor of restricting corporate spending on campaigns, such as in this law review article, where she wrote:
We would never condone private gifts to judges about to decide a case implicating the gift-givers’ interests. Yet our system of election financing permits extensive private, including corporate, financing of candidates’ campaigns, raising again and again the question what the difference is between contributions and bribes and how legislators or other officials can operate objectively on behalf of the electorate. Can elected officials say with credibility that they are carrying out the mandate of a “democratic” society, representing only the general public good, when private money plays such a large role in their campaigns?
In the one campaign finance matter that confronted her as a judge on the Second Circuit, Sotomayor voted to allow a Vermont campaign finance spending limit to stand, although her vote was based on a procedural issue, not the merits of the law. The Supreme Court eventually overturned the Vermont restrictions.
Of course, Justice David Souter, whom Sotomayor replaced, generally favored restrictions on corporate campaign spending as well, so Sotomayor’s position isn’t likely to swing the court in a different direction.
Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. and Chief Justice John Roberts, however, are skeptics of campaign finance regulations and could lead the court’s conservative wing toward tossing out longstanding laws restricting corporate spending on political campaigns. The conservatives on the court — oddly joined by the ACLU — see such rules as restrictions on freedom of speech.