Monday January 25, 2010

Supreme Court Decision Sparks Pro-Abort Fears of Demise of Roe v. Wade

By Patrick B. Craine

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 25, 2010 ( – The United States Supreme Court last week struck down campaign finance laws that restricted the political spending of corporations and labour unions in a 5-4 ruling that has been condemned by President Barack Obama and hailed by others as a victory for free speech.

But for pro-life advocates the ruling is of especial interest, since it reversed decades-old precedent of the court, sparking fears among abortion proponents that the precedent established by Roe v. Wade could also be vulnerable.

The majority of the court sided with Citizens United, a conservative group who produced “Hillary: The Movie” to criticize then-presidential candidate Hilary Clinton during the 2008 Democrat primaries. Citizens United intended to promote the film through cable television ads, but the Federal Election Commission decided that these were equivalent to campaign ads, and so the group could only fund the project through individual contributions rather than corporate funds.

Last week’s judgment, in part, struck down sections of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, allowing unions and corporations to put out issue-related ads in the days leading up to an election.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, stated that there is “no basis for allowing the government to limit corporate independent expenditures.”

“There is no basis for the proposition that, in the political speech context, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers,” he wrote. “The government may regulate corporate speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.”

The four dissenters were Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Writing on their behalf, Justice Stevens argued that the Court should not confuse corporations with individuals.

“The notion that the First Amendment dictated [the ruling] is, in my judgment, profoundly misguided,” he wrote. “In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it.”

The political left have harshly condemned the ruling, saying that it will allow the concerns of special interest groups to supersede those of ordinary people. Leading the way, President Obama dedicated his weekly address on Saturday to the matter.

“This ruling strikes at our democracy itself,” Obama said. “This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way — or to punish those who don’t.”

“We don’t need to give any more voice to the powerful interests that already drown out the voices of everyday Americans,” he added.

In the wake of the ruling, however, abortion proponents have expressed their fear over the Supreme Court’s willingness to overturn seemingly established precedent, motivated in particular by a concurrence opinion issued by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Roberts wrote that ‘stare decisis’, the principle that requires judges to follow precedent established by previous decisions, “is neither an ‘inexorable command’… nor ‘a mechanical formula of adherence to the latest decision’ … especially in constitutional cases.”

“If it were, segregation would be legal, minimum wage laws would be unconstitutional, and the Government could wiretap ordinary criminal suspects without first obtaining warrants,” he wrote.

“When considering whether to re-examine a prior erroneous holding, we must balance the importance of having constitutional questions decided against the importance of having them decided right,” he continued, adding that “stare decisis is not an end in itself.”

Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in an interview with Politico, said, “Yesterday’s Roberts court decision, which exhibited a stunning disregard for settled law of decades’ standing, is terrifying to those of us who care deeply about the constitutional protections the court put in place for women’s access to abortion.”

“We are deeply concerned. … Yesterday’s decision shows the court will reach out to take an opportunity to wholesale reverse a precedent the hard right has never liked.”

Pro-life advocates, on the other hand, see a glimmer of hope that Roe v. Wade may indeed be overturned. “Where they disagree with the precedent and they think it’s wrong constitutionally, they’re not afraid to say it,” Jay Sekulow, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice, told Politico. “Where they think the court got it wrong, they’re trying to correct that, and from my perspective that’s a good thing.”

“The Court correctly concluded that judges should stop playing semantics with our Constitution and read the text as it is written,” commented Penny Young Nance, CEO for Concerned Women for America (CWA), on the day of the ruling. “The government should not be limiting political speech because someone is rich or poor, or because they disagree with a particular point of view. Americans are the real winners today.”

The laws that have been overturned, said CWA President Wendy Wright, “serve only to chill political speech and open the door for those in power to choose favorites. We applaud the Court for listening to the voices of millions of Americans who believe in those foundational principles embodied by the First Amendment.”

“We hope this is just the first in a series of steps to reclaim the ideals our Founders believed in when they fought and died to establish a country where we can be truly free to speak and worship our God without government interference,” she continued.