Clarence Thomas on Citizens United, Corporate Speech, and the State of the Union


Justice Clarence Thomas gave one of his famously frank and entertaining speeches to a law school audience this week in Florida, and as Adam Liptak reports in the New York Times, Thomas offered some choice quotes about the fallout from last month's landmark free speech decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C.:

By a 5-to-4 vote, with Justice Thomas in the majority, the court ruled last month that corporations had a First Amendment right to spend money to support or oppose political candidates.

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

As for the common refrain that the Court overturned decades of precedent, Thomas pointed out the less than savory history of the 1907 Tillman Act, one of the earliest campaign finance laws:

"Go back and read why Tillman introduced that legislation," Justice Thomas said, referring to Senator Benjamin Tillman. "Tillman was from South Carolina, and as I hear the story he was concerned that the corporations, Republican corporations, were favorable toward blacks and he felt that there was a need to regulate them."

It is thus a mistake, the justice said, to applaud the regulation of corporate speech as "some sort of beatific action."

And what about President Obama's much ballyhooed criticism of the Court during the State of the Union Address?

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

"One of the consequences," he added in an apparent reference to last week's address, "is now the court becomes part of the conversation, if you want to call it that, in the speeches. It's just an example of why I don't go."

Read the whole story here. Relive the great Obama-Alito brouhaha below: