U.S. Supreme Court

High Court Decision a ‘Seismic Jolt’ and Possible Sign of New Boldness

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Yesterday’s decision striking down a ban on corporate campaign expenditures on behalf of political candidates could indicate the Supreme Court is now willing to act more boldly in striking down precedent.

The 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission struck down restrictions that had barred corporations from spending on independent campaign ads in the days before an election. An analysis of the decision in the Washington Post calls Citizens United a “seismic jolt” that could be a sign of a new bold direction.

Pamela Harris, executive director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown Law Center, told the Post that a new boldness is a possibility—or not. “Perhaps they have exhausted themselves on this one case, or it could have the opposite effect and be energizing,” she told the newspaper. “I really don’t know which it will be.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has been more willing to question precedent than his predecessor, the late William H. Rehnquist, the story says. The votes of Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who replaced Sandra Day O’Connor, were key to the decision.

A concurrence by Roberts, joined by Alito, explained their decision to overturn precedent. Stare decisis isn’t an “inexorable command,” Roberts wrote.

“If it were, segregation would be legal, minimum wage laws would be unconstitutional and the government could wiretap ordinary criminal suspects without first obtaining warrants,” he wrote.

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