With Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito has previously taken a cautious, piecemeal approach to campaign finance law. But as the current case shows, McCain-Feingold is a blunt instrument that gives federal bureaucrats the power to decide what kind of campaign advertising is allowed during an election. If “Hillary: the Movie” isn’t allowed, then Michael Moore’s documentaries should be banned, and newspaper endorsements would also be suspect despite a specific carve-out in the law. If newspapers didn’t have that carve-out, then maybe so many editors wouldn’t cheerlead for this kind of law.
McCain-Feingold is a frontal assault on political speech, and President Bush’s decision to sign it while claiming to dislike it was one of the worst moments of his eight years in office. Citizens United gives the Justices a new opportunity to chip away at this attack on the First Amendment, and even better if they use it to declare the whole thing unconstitutional.