WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is defending the court's 2010 decision in the Citizens United case that helped fuel hundreds of millions of dollars of spending by independent groups in the just-concluded campaign season.
Alito told about 1,500 people at a Federalist Society dinner this week that the First Amendment protects political speech, whether from an individual or a corporation. His comments to the mostly conservative and Republican crowd were part of his broader analysis of arguments put forth by the Obama administration in recent years that Alito said would curtail individual freedoms in favor of stronger federal power.
He said opponents of the 5-4 decision have conducted an effective, but misleading, public relations campaign by stressing that the court extended free speech rights to corporations.
He even praised opponents' pithy cleverness, noting such bumper stickers as "Life Does Not Begin at Incorporation."
But Alito rattled off the names of the nation's leading newspapers and television networks, all owned by corporations and possessing acknowledged rights to print and say what they wish about politics and government.
"The question is whether speech that goes to the very heart of government should be limited to certain preferred corporations; namely, media corporations," he said. "Surely the idea that the First Amendment protects only certain privileged voices should be disturbing to anybody who believes in free speech."
It was not the first time Alito has taken on critics of the outcome in the Citizens United case. At President Barack Obama's State of the Union address soon after the court's ruling in January 2010, the president said the court "reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections."
Alito, sitting with five other justices, was seen to mouth, "Not true."