Since She’s Been Gone: O’Connor’s Opinion of Citizen’s United

By Tanya Roth on February 2, 2010 2:10 PM

Unless you have been spending the bulk of your time on the International Space Station lately, and even then, you have heard a great deal about the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. That ruling, overturning decades of legal precedent and the bulk of the McCain Feingold Act will, most agree, send cannon balls of corporate money whizzing at high speed toward the election process, with potentially devastating results.

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who stepped down from the bench in 2006 and who was a supporter of campaign finance reform, made her thoughts known on the subject this past week. She said that she hoped the ruling would not allow a landslide of corporate money to unduly effect elections, but feared it would.

According to ABC News, Justice O’Connor also highlighted another area of concern when speaking to an audience at Georgetown Law School. Her main worry, and one not often commented on, is the effect the new rules (or lack thereof) for corporate spending will have on the election of judges at all levels of sate courts. “This rise in judicial campaigning makes last week’s opinion in Citizens United a problem for an independent judiciary,” she said in her speech in Washington. O’Connor went on to note that nearly 80% of state judges face election at some point during their time on the bench.

Last year’s case regarding the election of a West Virginia judge only reinforces Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s concerns. According to an ABC News investigation, mining executives spent millions of dollars on the election of a member of the West Virginia Supreme Court. The judge then presided over a case brought before him involving the same mining company. It came as no surprise when the same judge then cast the swing vote in favor of the mining company. That particular case, Caperton v. Massey, made its way to the High Court and was decided by a 5-4 majority, this time finding that the judge’s refusal to recuse himself was seen to be, per the majority opinion, “an extraordinary situation where the Constitution requires recusal.”

It is clear Justice O’Connor, among others, is concerned over how many more cases like Caperton will continue to spring up like mushrooms after the rain of corporate cash begins.

Related Resources:

* O’Connor Calls Citizens United Ruling ‘A Problem’ (ABC News)
* O’Connor Worries Corporate Cash Will Taint Judicial Elections (U.S. News & World Report)
* The Supreme Court Rejects a Limit on Corporate-Funded Campaign Speech (FindLaw’s Writ)
* Hey Big Spender! Supreme Court Cuts Limits on Corp Campaign Spending (FindLaw)
* Caperton v. Massey (Brennan Center for Justice)

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