Chamber Amicus Brief Defends First Amendment Rights of Organizations to Participate in Public and Political Dialogue

Apr 27, 2012

Today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a Montana Supreme Court decision that upheld a Montana ban on political speech by organizations of all types. The Chamber’s amicus brief argues that the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling is incompatible with the First Amendment and in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.

The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” In Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the long-standing constitutional principle that the First Amendment prohibits governments from picking and choosing who gets to speak in the marketplace of ideas. In other words, the government cannot discriminate against those exercising their right to free speech based on the identity of the speaker.  

Suppressing speech based on a speaker’s identity has the inevitable and undesirable effect of targeting specific viewpoints and ideas – viewpoints we need as part of the public and political dialogue so that people can make well-informed decisions based on a variety of perspectives. As one of the dissenters to the Montana Supreme Court’s erroneous decision correctly recognized, businesses, trade associations, public interest groups, and other types of organizations “contribute to the discussion,  debate,  and  the  dissemination  of  information  and  ideas  that  the  First Amendment seeks to foster.”

Montana has a long and unfortunate history of thumbing its nose at U.S. Supreme Court precedent in this area. Indeed, as the Chamber’s brief explains, it took the Ninth Circuit more than twenty years and three rulings to bring Montana into compliance with a 1978 Supreme Court ruling protecting the First Amendment rights of organizations to participate in political dialogue. That’s 20 years of free speech that Montana suppressed, in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court shouldn’t wait another 20 years to ensure that the free speech rights of organizations of all types are fully protected in Montana. That’s why the Chamber’s amicus brief calls on the U.S. Supreme Court to summarily reverse the Montana Supreme Court’s egregious decision. The right to free speech is one of our country’s founding principles.   The government has no business choosing who gets to participate in the public or political debate.

The case is American Tradition Partnership v. Montana. You can read the Chamber's brief on the website of the National Chamber Litigation Center, the Chamber's public policy law firm handling the case.

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