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Justice Thomas defends Citizens United ruling

By The Associated Press
02.05.10

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas this week told Florida law students that corporations and unions have a First Amendment right to spend money on political candidates, and he said some criticism of the high court goes too far.

Thomas spoke Feb. 2 at Stetson University and defended the Supreme Court's recent decision in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations and unions can spend freely from their treasuries to run political ads for or against specific candidates. They are still prohibited from contributing directly to candidates.

"I found it fascinating that the people who were editorializing against it were The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company," Thomas said, according to a report in The New York Times. "These are corporations."

Thomas voted with the majority last month in the 5-4 decision. The ruling earned a public scolding from President Obama during his State of the Union address last week. Although Thomas did not directly address the flap over Obama's remarks, he told Stetson students he wasn't there to hear them in person.

"I don't go because it has become so partisan and it's very uncomfortable for a judge to sit there," he said. "There's a lot that you don't hear on TV — the catcalls, the whooping and hollering and under-the-breath comments," he added.

In an appearance yesterday at the University of Florida law school, Thomas said that questioning of the Supreme Court and other government branches needed to stay within the range of fair criticism or "run the risk in our society of undermining institutions that we need to preserve our liberties." Thomas said some comments he hears about the Court "border on being irresponsible."

Thomas said the Court's rulings should be questioned, but said he was bothered by some rhetoric conveying "the idea of assigning ulterior motives to opinions that people don't agree with, rather than saying simply that the Court doesn't agree with my argument."

"There are different approaches, because we start with different assumptions. Or we look at things differently," he said. "And I think law school should encourage you that these differences are acceptable in our legal system. And in the end, it is what strengthens and informs our legal system."

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, generally sidestepped questions at Pepperdine University in California Feb. 3 about the case and the president's criticism of it, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"Does Justice Kennedy feel scolded?" one audience questioner asked.

"He doesn't," Kennedy replied.


Related

A changed legal landscape in campaign finance

By David L. Hudson Jr. Justice Kennedy notes that, historically, direct corporate contributions to candidates have been restricted much more than corporate spending on behalf of candidates. 01.21.10

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