In recent months, at least three major newspapers have carried columns attempting to push Chief Justice John Roberts into voting to uphold a grossly unconstitutional federal law. But their cheap distortions and Chicken Little yammering will fail. The chief justice will do his job, and the country will be better off for it.
On Sept. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court reheard arguments in the landmark campaign finance and free speech case, Citizens United v. FEC. At issue in this case is whether the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) could ban documentaries about candidates when Election Day is approaching.
This case was originally heard in April. But in June the Court called for a rare rehearing of the case, with the parties specifically arguing whether two Supreme Court precedents from the past that had upheld major restrictions on speech should be overruled, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and part of McConnell v. FEC.
Ordinary people often have to pool their donations in corporations like public-interest groups to have enough money to get their message out on TV and radio. Perhaps too focused on how corporations in the past were mammoth operations like G.E. or General Motors with massive money to push agendas, and public-interest groups were rare, the Court held in these earlier cases that, when organizations speak, they have less First Amendment protection than the rest of us.
That’s to say, if people pooled their resources into corporate groups to speak for them, they enjoyed less free speech protection and could be more heavily regulated.
Oral arguments in Citizens United did not go well for the Obama administration, as Solicitor General Elena Kagan was clearly outmatched by her opponent, former Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson.
What makes this case unusual is that the swing vote is not Justice Anthony Kennedy. That’s because Kennedy wrote strongly-worded dissents in both of the precedents that the Court is considering overturning, so he’s on record as believing those cases are wrong.
So the attention shifted instead to Chief Justice John Roberts, especially since Roberts is the most stringent adherent to precedent on the Court, making him the most reluctant justice to overturn the two cases.
The Far Left is evidently terrified that Chief Justice Roberts will live up to the assurances he gave the country during his 2005 confirmation hearings. There, he said that he would give due regard to precedent, and saw a judge’s role as a modest one, applying the law to facts without regard to agendas, parties or outcomes. In doing so, he also acknowledged that sometimes precedent must be overruled.