The Interaction of Personality and Procedure in Citizens United Decision

One New Yorker piece by Jeffrey Toobin that we found particularly interesting discusses the role that Chief Justice John Roberts played in “orchestrating” the Citizens United decision.  In “Money Unlimited,” Toobin provides a comprehensive background of the events leading up to the now infamous decision that struck down the ban on corporate spending in elections. He examines the personality and individual motivations of the Justices, and explains how these crucial yet often neglected factors fundamentally shaped the landmark Citizens United ruling. Specifically, Toobin focuses on the impact that Chief Justice Roberts had on the ultimate outcome, and went so far as to state, “as American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.”

How did the Chief Justice accomplish such a feat? According to Toobin, John Roberts orchestrated the decision by manipulating the scope of the case, in other words, what legal question was being presented to the Court.  If Justice Roberts had maintained the narrow scope, then the decision would have been specific to the one case and would have had minimal impact beyond it. Instead, he shifted away from the specific facts of this one case and began focusing on more general and theoretical ones including the relationship between money, free speech, and First Amendment rights.  He also notes that Roberts also made use of tactical strategic choices. In assigning Justice Kennedy, both a noted First Amendment champion as well as the swing vote on the Court, the primary author of the Majority’s Opinion meant there would be no ambiguity in the final ruling.

As Toobin notes, “these rhetorical fights were a long way from the gritty business of raising and spending campaign money.”  Indeed, it is difficult to overlook the practical effect of the ruling now two and a half years later.  Speech may not be stifled, yet it is also certain that not all voices are being heard.


Article Link: Money Unlimited: How Chief Justice Roberts orchestrated the Citizens United Decision

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