In Citizens United v. FEC, the five conservative justices reversed a century of law and opened the floodgates for corporations to spend unlimited money in our elections.
In a stunning display of judicial overreach, the conservative justices abruptly broke with long-settled precedent to fundamentally change the rules of the game in favor of big business. The narrow issue originally presented to the Court was whether Citizens United, a non-profit corporation, could use its general treasury funds to pay for broadcasts of its movie lambasting Hillary Clinton during the 30-day period before an election.
In a highly unorthodox move, the Court invited reargument on the broad question of whether to overrule two earlier Supreme Court decisions upholding limits on corporate spending in federal elections. On this question, the Court announced that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as do ordinary Americans to spend money to influence elections. In his long and stinging dissent, Justice Stevens called out the five justices for changing the parameters of the case in order to give themselves room to reach a constitutional question and produce the desired result.
The consequences of the Citizens United decision have already been felt acutely, particularly during the 2012 election cycle.