The United States Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the federal government may not ban political spending by corporations or unions in candidate elections. The Court’s 5-4 majority opinion cited the First Amendment to the Constitution, which says,
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Darn the Constitution. Darn the Court. Everybody knows that this decision will wipe out restrictions on corporations spending huge sums to elect candidates who will do their bidding. The New York Times says so. So does the Washington Post. An ethical justice would have decided the opposite way, a decision that would have produced the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Moreover, that decision would have decreased the influence of money in politics, whereas the Court’s decision will surely increase it.
But hold on: what really does ethics require of the Supreme Court? The justices take the same oath as all federal officers: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
The McCain-Feingold Act and other federal restrictions on political spending serve, I’m certain, an important public purpose: they make our politics a little more ethical. But they pretty obviously violate the First Amendment. Federal officers have an ethical duty to hold to their oath of office and overturn them, as they now have done. If we are to restrict corporations political spending we need a Constitutional amendment to do it.