‘Historic’ Alaska Ruling Could Provide Roadmap to Defeating Citizens United

“This decision gives Alaskans and all Americans a chance to revisit those destructive decisions.”

By Eoin Higgins, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 11-5-2019

A case in Alaska could go to the U.S. Supreme Court and possibly overturn Citizens United. (Photo: Joe Ravi/cc)

A ruling in a court in Alaska Monday could open the door to imposing more restrictions on super PACs and possibly reversing the infamous 2012 Citizens United by the U.S. Supreme Court that in 2012 upended the nation’s campaign finance laws.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge William F. Morse ordered the state to impose limits on donations to political groups in Alaska, saying in the ruling (pdf) that the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC), which handles election enforcement, “should reinstate enforcement of the contribution limits at issue.” The decision is expected to head to the Alaska Supreme Court.

In a statement, election reform group Equal Citizens founder Lawrence Lessig said that the decision in favor of three Alaskan citizens contesting the unlimited donations was “historic.”

“This decision gives Alaskans and all Americans a chance to revisit those destructive decisions,” said Lessig, who helped develop the legal strategy for the case. “And it will allow us to continue to make our case that the Framers did not wish to see super PACs. Just the opposite: they would have despised the kind of corruption we have seen recently, and the Constitution gives states the power to eliminate it.”

Lessig framed the court’s decision as a confirmation that Citizens United was just the ultimate symptom of a disease that began at the state and local level.

“It shows what we have known for many years,” said Lessig. “Citizens United did not create the super PAC; instead, unlimited donations have flown into independent groups because of incorrect interpretations by lower courts and state elections agencies.”

Equal Citizens chief counsel Jason Harrow said that Morse’s ruling provides a pathway to the U.S. Supreme Court via appeals. That’s an opportunity, Harrow said, that his group has been waiting for.

“The judge’s opinion said that ‘immediate review’ by the Alaska Supreme Court is appropriate in a case of this magnitude,” said Harrow. “We look forward to taking the case there and, hopefully, to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Once the case reaches the high court, said Harrow, Equal Citizens believes that there’s a good chance at overturning Citizens United.

“We are confident we have a theory that the Constitution does not require the states to get out of the business of curbing unlimited donations to super PACs,” said Harrow.

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