That distaste never abated, and I have felt ever since that the Court would be best served by inserting itself into campaign finance debates with less frequency.The Court would be best served, eh? The questions have to do with what the Constitution says about freedom of speech, so one must wonder why he'd think in terms of what serves the Court best as opposed to what the Constitution means or at least what serves the people best.
That view may have had an impact on the unusually long dissent that I wrote during my last term on the Court against the Court’s overreaching in the Citizens United case...
In addition to my overriding hostile reaction to the subjects discussed in Buckley, I also recall puzzlement about why the Court failed to endorse the position expressed by Justice White in his dissent. He effectively explained why the distinction between limitations on contributions (which the Court upheld) and the limitations on expenditures (which the Court invalidated) did not make much sense, and why the Court should have respected the congressional judgment that effective campaigns could be conducted within the limits established by the statute. Time has vindicated his prediction that without “limits on total expenditures, campaign costs will inevitably and endlessly escalate.” He thought it quite proper for Congress to limit the amount of money that a candidate or his family could spend on a campaign in order “to discourage any notion that the outcome of elections is primarily a function of money.”That is, he favors limiting speech so that people don't get the wrong idea (the wrong idea being that money affects elections). Under the system we have, as the majority of the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution, candidates can spend all the money they want trying to get elected and people are free to get the "notion" that money affects the outcome of elections.
Justice Stevens continues:
The majority’s response to Justice White relied on the rhetorical flourish that “the concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.” The assumption underlying that colorful argument...Colorful?
... is that limitations on the quantity of speech in public debates are just as obnoxious as limitations on the content of what a speaker has to say.That is to say, it's not really so bad for the government to tell a candidate: We think you've said enough.
But there is nothing even arguably unfair about evenhanded rules that limit the amount of speech that can be voiced in certain times or places or by certain means, such as sound trucks. If we view an election as a species of debate between two adversaries, equalizing the amount of time (or money) that each can spend in an attempt to persuade the decision-makers is fully consistent with the First Amendment. Otherwise, appellate court rules limiting the time that the adversaries spend in oral arguments would be invalid because they limit the speech of one adversary in order to enhance the relative voice of his or her opponent.He's equating the formal conditions within the confines of the appellate courtroom to the speech that takes place in the entirety of all of the forums in which a candidate might speak: all of the city squares and auditoriums, all of the TV and radio channels, all of the print media, and the entirety of the internet!
There's very little mention of Citizens United in Stevens's book, perhaps because the opinion wasn't written by the Chief Justice, and the subject of the book is Chief Justices. But he does mention it, musing that, based on Roberts opinion in Snyder v. Phelps, "perhaps I should give him a passing grade in First Amendment law."
But for reasons that it took me ninety pages to explain in my dissent in the Citizens United campaign finance case, his decision to join the majority in that case prevents me from doing so.That's it. He doesn't even attempt to explain Citizens United to the general reader, who's expected to accept that the Court got it wrong but it would take 90 pages to explain why. Citizens United — which we covered in my conlaw class yesterday — is indeed damned pesky to absorb, and there's something disturbing about a case that purports to tell us something fundamental about political speech in our democracy, but that cannot be talked about in straightforward terms. If he's so right and the other side is so wrong, he should be able to say why in a clear, readable few pages. Instead, what we get is either way overcomplicated, so you'll have to go read 90 pages, or it's insultingly oversimplified: John Roberts flunks!
Here's the 90-page dissenting opinion, in case you're up for reading it. As we say on the limitless internet: Read the whole thing. I'll bet very few people have read the whole thing. Justice Stevens delves into the history of Americans' attitudes about corporations. (In Citizens United, the majority emphasized free speech, not the source of the speech, while the dissenters made a distinction between individuals and corporations and would have accepted limits on speech when it comes from corporations.) Stevens wrote about the fear of corporations in early American history. He quotes Lawrence Friedman's "A History of American Law": “The word ‘soulless’ constantly recurs in debates over corporations… . Corporations, it was feared, could concentrate the worst urges of whole groups of men”). Later in his opinion, Stevens augments that anxiety about corporations with his own words: "corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires."
Here's the whole "soulless" paragraph from Professor Friedman's book:
The word “soulless” constantly recurs in debates over corporations. Everyone knew that corporations were really run by human beings. Yet, the word was not completely inappropriate. Corporations did not die, and there was no real limit to their size, or their greed. Corporations might aggregate the worst urges of whole groups of men. No considerations of family, friendship, or morality, would temper their powers. People hated and distrusted corporations, the way some people came to fear the soulless computer—machines that can join together the wit, skill, power, and malevolence of infinite numbers of minds.Thank God my computer is soulless! I'm using it to write this post, and I wouldn't like it to insert any morality, beliefs, feelings, thoughts, and desires, between me and you, as I invite you to aggregate your possibly evil urges here in the comments. With the power of the soulless computer we can join together the wit, skill, power, and malevolence of infinite numbers of minds.
How scary is that?