Monday, June 26, 2006

Supreme Court decision on Campaign Finance

Today the American Supreme Court ruled against a Vermont law that limited the campaign spending and fundraising of candidates running for state office. Here is a link to a brief report of the decision. And here is the full Supreme Court decision itself.

The majority gave different justifications for the ruling. One opinion (Justice Breyer) ruled that the limit violated the First Amendment. More specifically, the First Amendment's requirement of "careful tailoring". In other words, the degree to which this law impeded free speech was not deemed (by the Court) to be proportionate given the likely benefits that might be realised by such legislation. I haven't read through the whole decision myself, but if I see some useful links to this decision (concerning its likely impact) in the future I will update this post with some links.

The issue of campaign finance reform is a great example of how our fundamental political ideals often conflict with each other and responsible legislative (and judicial) activism requires an appreciation of the stakes at issue on both sides and an ability to judge what constitutes a reasonable balance between fundamental conflicting values (rather than crowning one right or freedom as "supreme").

One the one hand, a vibrant, healthy democracy requires ample opportunity for citizens and political parties to engage in political debate and deliberation. Yet on the other hand, genuine self-government is jeopardized when money exerts such an influence on the political process. Consider this. Lets hope that this particular decision is not a setback to serious campaign finance reform in the U.S.