Speaking in Little Rock as part of the lecture series of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, Stevens said the foundation for the court's 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission may soon start to crack.
LITTLE ROCK — Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said Wednesday he believes the current members of the court are rethinking their 2010 ruling that the government cannot restrict independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.
Speaking in Little Rock as part of the lecture series of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, Stevens said the foundation for the court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission may soon start to crack.
Stevens dissented from the majority opinion, which he said Wednesday reversed a century of law, authorized unlimited expenditures by America’s most powerful interests and, taken to its logical conclusion, would apply to money spent by foreign entities.
Discussing his opposition to the majority opinion, Stevens noted that when Republican presidential candidates met in recent debates they were allowed equal time to express their views.
“Both the candidates and the audience would surely have thought he value of the debate to have suffered if the moderators had allocated the time on the basis of the speakers’ wealth, or if they had held an auction allowing the most time to the highest bidder,” he said. “Yet that is essentially what happens during actual campaigns in which rules equalizing campaign expenditures are forbidden.”
In President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address, he warned that the ruling would allow unlimited political expenditures by foreign entities, to which Justice Samuel Alito, who was in the audience and had joined in the majority opinion in Citizens United, appeared to mouth the words, “Not true.”
Steven said Wednesday he took this as a sign that at some point the court will issue an opinion carving out an exception to Citizens United regarding non-citizens.
Such an exception would “create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion,” he said.
He also noted that a few months after issuing the Citizens United ruling, the court upheld the constitutionality of a federal law that prohibits providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist group, including expert advice intended to support only non-terrorist activities.
Stevens, who joined in that opinion, said the ruling suggests the court someday may support prohibiting the free speech of terrorist groups.
That would be another blow to “the proposition the identity of the speaker is a permissible basis for regulating campaign speech” or the funding that allows that speech, he said.
An audience member asked Stevens why the public should continue to have faith in the court after the 2000 ruling in Bush v. Gore that handed the presidency to George W. Bush. Stevens voted with the minority in that 5-4 decision.
“I think that you have to have confidence that the justices will do their best to not make that same mistake again,” Stevens said, drawing a laugh from the audience.
Stevens declined to answer an audience member’s question about how the court may rule on the federal health care reform law, known as Obamacare , saying he has not read the briefs.
Stevens, 92, was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford in 1975 and served until his retirement in June 2010. He recently wrote a book about his time on the court, “Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir.”