Justice Defends Ruling on Finance

Justice Defends Ruling on Finance
By ADAM LIPTAK
Published: February 3, 2010

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WASHINGTON — In expansive remarks at a law school in Florida, Justice Clarence Thomas on Tuesday vigorously defended the Supreme Court’s recent campaign finance decision.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Justice Clarence Thomas said he had stopped attending State of the Union speeches.
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And Justice Thomas explained that he did not attend State of the Union addresses — he missed the dust-up when President Obama used the occasion last week to criticize the court’s decision — because the gatherings had turned so partisan.
Justice Thomas responded to several questions from students at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Fla., concerning the campaign finance case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. By a 5-to-4 vote, with Justice Thomas in the majority, the court ruled last month that corporations had a First Amendment right to spend money to support or oppose political candidates.
“I found it fascinating that the people who were editorializing against it were The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company,” Justice Thomas said. “These are corporations.”
The part of the McCain-Feingold law struck down in Citizens United contained an exemption for news reports, commentaries and editorials. But Justice Thomas said that reflected a legislative choice rather than a constitutional principle.
He added that the history of Congressional regulation of corporate involvement in politics had a dark side, pointing to the Tillman Act, which banned corporate contributions to federal candidates in 1907.
“Go back and read why Tillman introduced that legislation,” Justice Thomas said, referring to Senator Benjamin Tillman. “Tillman was from South Carolina, and as I hear the story he was concerned that the corporations, Republican corporations, were favorable toward blacks and he felt that there was a need to regulate them.”
It is thus a mistake, the justice said, to applaud the regulation of corporate speech as “some sort of beatific action.”
Justice Thomas said the First Amendment’s protections applied regardless of how people chose to assemble to participate in the political process.
“If 10 of you got together and decided to speak, just as a group, you’d say you have First Amendment rights to speak and the First Amendment right of association,” he said. “If you all then formed a partnership to speak, you’d say we still have that First Amendment right to speak and of association.”
“But what if you put yourself in a corporate form?” Justice Thomas asked, suggesting that the answer must be the same.
Asked about his attitude toward the two decisions overruled in Citizens United, he said, “If it’s wrong, the ultimate precedent is the Constitution.”
Justice Thomas would not directly address the controversy over Mr. Obama’s criticism of the Citizens United ruling or Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s mouthed “not true” in response. But he did say he had stopped attending the addresses.
“I don’t go because it has become so partisan and it’s very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there,” he said, adding that “there’s a lot that you don’t hear on TV — the catcalls, the whooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments.”
“One of the consequences,” he added in an apparent reference to last week’s address, “is now the court becomes part of the conversation, if you want to call it that, in the speeches. It’s just an example of why I don’t go.”

Justice Defends Ruling on Finance  By ADAM LIPTAKPublished: February 3, 2010WASHINGTON — In expansive remarks at a law school in Florida, Justice Clarence Thomas on Tuesday vigorously defended the Supreme Court’s recent campaign finance decision.

Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesJustice Clarence Thomas said he had stopped attending State of the Union speeches.Blog
The CaucusThe latest on President Obama, his administration and other news from Washington and around the nation. Join the discussion.More Politics NewsAnd Justice Thomas explained that he did not attend State of the Union addresses — he missed the dust-up when President Obama used the occasion last week to criticize the court’s decision — because the gatherings had turned so partisan.
Justice Thomas responded to several questions from students at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Fla., concerning the campaign finance case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. By a 5-to-4 vote, with Justice Thomas in the majority, the court ruled last month that corporations had a First Amendment right to spend money to support or oppose political candidates.
“I found it fascinating that the people who were editorializing against it were The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company,” Justice Thomas said. “These are corporations.”
The part of the McCain-Feingold law struck down in Citizens United contained an exemption for news reports, commentaries and editorials. But Justice Thomas said that reflected a legislative choice rather than a constitutional principle.
He added that the history of Congressional regulation of corporate involvement in politics had a dark side, pointing to the Tillman Act, which banned corporate contributions to federal candidates in 1907.
“Go back and read why Tillman introduced that legislation,” Justice Thomas said, referring to Senator Benjamin Tillman. “Tillman was from South Carolina, and as I hear the story he was concerned that the corporations, Republican corporations, were favorable toward blacks and he felt that there was a need to regulate them.”
It is thus a mistake, the justice said, to applaud the regulation of corporate speech as “some sort of beatific action.”
Justice Thomas said the First Amendment’s protections applied regardless of how people chose to assemble to participate in the political process.
“If 10 of you got together and decided to speak, just as a group, you’d say you have First Amendment rights to speak and the First Amendment right of association,” he said. “If you all then formed a partnership to speak, you’d say we still have that First Amendment right to speak and of association.”
“But what if you put yourself in a corporate form?” Justice Thomas asked, suggesting that the answer must be the same.
Asked about his attitude toward the two decisions overruled in Citizens United, he said, “If it’s wrong, the ultimate precedent is the Constitution.”
Justice Thomas would not directly address the controversy over Mr. Obama’s criticism of the Citizens United ruling or Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s mouthed “not true” in response. But he did say he had stopped attending the addresses.
“I don’t go because it has become so partisan and it’s very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there,” he said, adding that “there’s a lot that you don’t hear on TV — the catcalls, the whooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments.”
“One of the consequences,” he added in an apparent reference to last week’s address, “is now the court becomes part of the conversation, if you want to call it that, in the speeches. It’s just an example of why I don’t go.”

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2 Responses to “Justice Defends Ruling on Finance”

  1. WhoDat Says:

    His statement is good in theory – a corporation is a group of beneficial owners. One could argue that this group should be able to speak its mind and act in its own best interest. However, in the real world, a corporation does not represent its owners as effectively as the smaller groups that Justice Thomas referenced. A major cause for this is the inefficient corporate proxy voting system. As many, many , many people have reminded us, it does not facilitate the feedback loop from beneficial owners that is necessary for successful corporate governance. These problems do not exist with groups of 10.

  2. tommy49646 Says:

    Thank you for your reply.
    It may sound good to say that a large corporation should not be able to answer charges against them, or comment in a political race because they have a lot more money than the average man. If this is the argument it falls apart when you see how labor unions give hundreds of millions of dollars to the Democrat party and can level any charge about anything at anytime right up to the day before an election. If corporations are to be kept out, then so must the labor unions. And don’t get me started on George Soros who is foreign born.

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