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Thursday, May 31, 2012
Citizens United Attacks From Justice Stevens Continue
WASHINGTON -- A day after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, retired Justice John Paul Stevens on Wednesday night backed President Barack Obama's suggestion during his 2010 State of the Union address that the Citizens Uniteddecision could lead to "foreign entities" bankrolling American elections.
He urged the U.S. Supreme Court to explicitly explain why the president's words were "not true," as Justice Samuel Alito famously mouthed on camera, breaking the justices' usual stoic appearance during the president's annual speech.
Stevens has been a trenchant critic of Citizens United since the court decided the case in January 2010. On the day the opinion was announced, he spent 20 minutes reading from the bench a summary of his 90-page dissent. Stumbling over some words that day convinced Stevens, now 92, to retire, but he continued to condemn the ruling in speeches, writings and even on the Colbert Report.
In a speech at the University of Arkansas' Clinton School of Public Service, Stevens challenged his former colleagues to defend Alito's "not true" moment by reconciling the court's sweeping language in Citizens United that the First Amendment "generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker's identity," with its subsequent decision -- made without briefing, argument, or written opinion -- to uphold a ban on campaign spending by non-citizens.
Alito's reaction, Stevens said, "persuade[s] me that that in due course it will be necessary for the court to issue an opinion explicitly crafting an exception that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion." In doing so, he continued, "it will be necessary to explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection to the campaign speech of some non-voters" -- that is, domestic corporations -- "than to that of other non-voters" such as the Canadian Harvard Law School graduate who remains barred from making campaign contributions.
The lawsuit brought by the Canadian citizen "unquestionably provided the court with an appropriate opportunity to explain why the president had misinterpreted the Court's opinion in Citizens United. "[T]he court instead took the surprising action of simply affirming the district court without comment and without dissent."