In a very brief, single sentence order this morning, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a lower court decision upholding a ban on non-permanent residents of the United States using their wealth to try to influence American elections. This was unquestionably the correct decision. Indeed, as your humble Justice Editor explained recently in the New York Times, a decision to the contrary would have opened the floodgates to foreign corporations buying and selling American elections:
[L]ongstanding constitutional law protects U.S. citizens’ right to speak out on political matters or even run ads supporting or opposing a candidate. Moreover, the Supreme Court’s egregious Citizens United decision forced America to treat corporations as if they had exactly the same First Amendment rights as people. To date, however, the court has not said that foreign nationals or foreign corporations enjoy the same rights as Americans.
Bluman asks the justices to punch a giant hole in this distinction between citizens and foreigners. But if foreigners must be treated the same as Americans, and if corporations also must be treated the same as people, then it follows that foreign corporations must enjoy the same right that American citizens enjoy: the right to spend money to influence U.S. elections, at least as long as they spend the money themselves rather than contribute it to a candidate.
The Court deserves some small degree of credit for today’s opinion, although only a very small amount since the result they reached today is clearly and obviously correct. Because the justices did not release an opinion explaining their decision, however, the rest of the nation will simply have to guess why five justices believe that allowing foreign corporations to corrupt our elections is a bridge too far, but enabling domestic corporations to buy elections is required by the Constitution.