Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold on Citizens United v. FEC

Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold on Citizens United v. FEC <read>

The principles involved and the consequences of the case:

while I have disagreed with many Supreme Court decisions, I have great respect for that institution and for the men and women who serve on the Court. But this step would be so damaging to our democracy and is so unwarranted and unnecessary that I must speak out. That is why Senator McCain and I have come to the floor today.

To overrule the Austin decision in this case, the Court would have to ignore several time-honored principles that have served for the past two centuries to preserve the public’s respect for and acceptance of its decisions. First, it is a basic tenet of constitutional law that the Court will not decide a case on constitutional grounds unless absolutely necessary, and that it if there is no choice but to reach a constitutional issue, the Court will decide the case as narrowly as possible…

The second principle is known as stare decisis, meaning that the Court respects its precedents and overrules them only in the most unusual of cases.  Chief Justice John Roberts, whom many believe to be the swing justice in this case, made grand promises of what he called “judicial modesty,” when he came before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2005. Respect for precedent was a key component of the approach that he asked us to believe he possessed…

Talk about a jolt to the legal system. It’s hard to imagine a bigger jolt than to strike down laws in over 20 states and a federal law that has been the cornerstone of the nation’s campaign finance system for 100 years.  The settled expectations that would be upset by this decision are enormous. And subsequent developments surely have not shown that the Austin decision is unworkable. Indeed, the Court relied on it as recently as 2003 in the McConnell case and even cited it in the Wisconsin Right to Life decision just two years ago, written by none other than Chief Justice Roberts. To be sure, there are justices on the Court who dissented from the Austin decision when it came down and continue to do so today. But if stare decisis means anything, a precedent on which so many state legislatures and the American people have relied should not be cast aside simply because a few new justices have arrived on the Court.

Third, the courts decide cases only on a full evidentiary record so that all sides have a chance to put forward their best arguments and the court can be confident that it is making a decision based on the best information available. In this case, precisely because the Supreme Court reached out to pose a broad constitutional question that had not been raised below, there is no record whatsoever to which the Court can turn. None. And the question here demands a complete record because the legal standard under prevailing First Amendment law is whether the statute is designed to address a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that result…

Does the Supreme Court really believe that the First Amendment requires the American people to accept a system where banks and investment firms, having just taken our country into its worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, can spend millions upon millions of dollars of ads directly advocating the defeat of those candidates who didn’t vote to bail them out or want to prevent future economic disaster by imposing strict new financial services regulations?…

At the oral argument last month, one justice seemed to suggest that it is perfectly acceptable for a tobacco company to try to defeat a candidate who wants to regulate tobacco, and to use its shareholders’ money to do so. This is the system that the Supreme Court may bequeath to this country if it doesn’t turn back. Some will say that corporate interests already have too much power

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