Mostly-conservative lawyer kingpin Ted Olson, one half of the duo working to bring a pro-marriage equality case before the Supreme Court, returned to his roots yesterday, appearing before SCOTUS (on Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s first day on the bench) to argue that laws restricting corporations from making political speech be swept away. Olson’s client, a non-profit called Citizens United, has made a blistering film critical of Hillary Clinton.
Chief Justice Roberts and several of the court’s more conservative justices seemed frustrated with the complex state of modern campaign finance law and appeared ready to take bold action. Justice Sotomayor, like some of the court’s more liberal members, seemed inclined to take a narrower approach. “Wouldn’t we be doing some more harm than good,” she asked Floyd Abrams, “by a broad ruling in a case that doesn’t involve more business corporations, and actually doesn’t involve the traditional nonprofit corporation?” “Your honor,” Mr. Abrams responded, “I don’t think you’d be doing more harm than good in vindicating the First Amendment rights here, which transcend that of Citizen United.” Mr. Abrams represented Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and a longtime foe of campaign finance regulation.
Olson is expected to win his case and U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagen appears ready to concede. What remains to be seen is whether the Court will overturn all bans on political speech by corporations during the 30-day period before elections, or if they will carve out exceptions for non-profits like Citizens United. Kagen holds that all kinds of corporations should not be allowed to spend money to support or oppose political candidates.