Excerpts from the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or BCRA:
Justices John Paul Stevens and Sandra Day O'Connor, in upholding key parts of the campaign finance law:
"Many years ago we observed that `to say that Congress is without power to pass appropriate legislation to safeguard . . . an election from the improper use of money to influence the result is to deny to the nation in a vital particular the power of self protection.' We abide by that conviction in considering Congress' most recent effort to confine the ill effects of aggregated wealth on our political system. We are under no illusion that BCRA will be the last congressional statement on the matter. Money, like water, will always find an outlet. What problems will arise, and how Congress will respond, are concerns for another day."
Dissent by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist:
"The court attempts to sidestep the unprecedented breadth of this regulation by stating that the `close relationship between federal officeholders and the national parties' makes all donations to the national parties `suspect.' But a close association with others, especially in the realm of political speech, is not a surrogate for corruption; it is one of our most treasured First Amendment rights. The court's willingness to impute corruption on the basis of a relationship greatly infringes associational rights and expands Congress' ability to regulate political speech . . . ."
"No doubt Congress was convinced by the many abuses of the current system that something in this area must be done. Its response, however, was too blunt."
Dissent by Justice Antonin Scalia:
"This is a sad day for the freedom of speech. Who could have imagined that the same court which, within the past four years, has sternly disapproved of restriction upon such inconsequential forms of expression as virtual child pornography, tobacco advertising, dissemination of illegally intercepted communications, and sexually explicit cable programming would smile with favor upon a law that cuts to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize the government . . . ."
"The first instinct of power is the retention of power, and, under a Constitution that requires periodic elections, that is best achieved by the suppression of election-time speech. We have witnessed merely the second scene of Act I of what promises to be a lengthy tragedy."
Dissent by Justice Clarence Thomas:
"The chilling endpoint of the court's reasoning is not difficult to foresee: outright regulation of the press . . . Media corporations are influential. There is little doubt that the editorials and commentary they run can affect elections. Nor is there any doubt that media companies often wish to influence elections. One would think that The New York Times fervently hopes that its endorsement of presidential candidates will actually influence people. What is to stop a future Congress from determining that the press is `too influential,' and that the `appearance of corruption' is significant when the media organizations endorse candidates or run `slanted' or `biased' news stories in favor of candidates or parties?"