Supreme Court Prefers Plutocracy to Free Speech

Speaking of Catch-22s, the Arizona campaign-finance case that the Prospect's Jamelle Bouie wrote about last year has been decided by the Supreme Court, with results that are all too predictable. In Citizens United, the Court already made it nearly impossible to restrain expenditures by self-financed candidates or third parties, which allows people and corporations with more resources to drown out the voices of citizens with fewer or none.   In response, the state of Arizona responded by providing matching funds to candidates who accept public campaign financing (while allowing candidates who turn down public funding to spend as much as they wish.)  Arizona's system would allow candidates to accept public financing without the fear of being swamped by third-party expenditures without directly restricting speech.

Alas, today the Supreme Court's Republican appointees made it clear that their real motivation in consistently ruling for big money in politics had more to do with protecting plutocracy than with concerns about free speech. In a 5-to-4 opinion [pdf], Chief Justice Roberts found that "Arizona’s matching funds scheme substantially burdens protected political speech without serving a compelling state interest and therefore violates the First Amendment." The premises of both of these findings are wrong: A voluntary public financing system is not a substantial burden on free speech, and even if it was, its justification is among the most compelling -- preserving access to the political process. As Justice Kagan writes for the dissenters:

The First Amendment’s core purpose is to foster a healthy, vibrant political system full of ro bust discussion and debate. Nothing in Arizona’s anti-corruption statute, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act, violates this constitutional protection. To the contrary, the Act promotes the values underlying both the First Amendment and our entire Constitution by enhancing the “opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people.”

The fact that this decision was nearly inevitable given the composition of the Court doesn't make it any less infuriating.