Citizens United, One Year Later

Get ready. 2012 elections, here we come.

By Jamilah King Jan 21, 2011

Today marks the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, which in effect, said that corporations are people, too. Katrina vanden Huevel wrote at The Nation that the ruling "overturned more than a century’s worth of precedent by awarding corporations the rights of citizens with regard to electioneering." And at least that much became clear during the 2010 Congressional elections, which saw an unprecedented number of corporations back a crop of overwhelmingly conservative candidates. The result? Your newly-minted crop of rabble-rousing GOP lawmakers.

Ben Manski and Lisa Graves wrote not too longer after the decision was handed down that the majority "clothed its decision in the language of our First Amendment: Corporations belong to a class of "disadvantaged persons" entitled to free speech rights. 

And Jamin Raskin, a law professor and Maryland State Senator, gives a tongue-and-cheek interpretation of the ruling’s fallout over the past twelve months:

You made it possible for outside groups and big businesses to spend almost $300 million for their favorite candidates in the 2010 congressional elections, driving total campaign costs up over $4 billion.

At a delicate moment for "corporate Americans," you put them right back in the driver’s seat. After the multi-trillion dollar sub-prime mortgage meltdown on Wall Street, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and Massey Coal’s lethal mine collapse in West Virginia, Americans were asking kind of tough questions about whether unregulated corporate power is serving the common good. You gave corporations the political edge they needed not just to survive but to rule!

Best of all, as a Supreme Court decision, you not only bulldozed major precedents and performed awesome doctrinal pirouettes, but you did it with a 5-4 vote. Like your doting big brother, Bush v. Gore, who was also conceived by "Justices United"–five Justices named by presidents of only one political party–you are rewriting the rules of American politics on a completely partisan basis. (Bush v. Gore decided the winner in only one election and promised he would dare not get involved in others You’ve already changed the rules in all of them–and you can’t even vote yet, kiddo!)

Last year when we rounded up our fantasy picks for the next Supreme Court Justice (before Elena Kagan got the nod, obviously), nearly every legal scholar we spoke with cited the Citizen’s United ruling as a clear sign that the court was in desperate need of reform.

"It’s going to be much worse in 2012 unless we do something, former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feinfold, who lost his seat to well-financed newcomer Ron Johnson, told The Nation. "Much worse." 

In a statement issued on Friday, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi denounced the ruling.

"In our democracy, voters determine the outcome of our elections — not special interests," Pelosi said, according to The Hill. "One year after the Supreme Court’s decision undermined that fundamental American value, we will continue to fight on behalf of the public interest and to preserve the integrity of our political campaigns."

Get ready. 2012 elections, here we come.