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Arizona's election law: Will the Supreme Court side with the rich?
An Arizona law that gives public money to political candidates who forswear private funding may be overturned
 
On Monday, the Supreme Court is considering a challenge to an Arizona law that helps publicly financed candidates keep pace with privately financed rivals.
On Monday, the Supreme Court is considering a challenge to an Arizona law that helps publicly financed candidates keep pace with privately financed rivals.
CC BY: Brittany Hogan

In the biggest campaign finance case since 2010's landmark Citizens United ruling, which removed campaign spending limits for corporations, the Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to Arizona's public financing system on Monday. At issue is whether Arizona's law — which automatically boosts the amount given to publicly financed candidates when their privately financed rivals spend more — quashes the First Amendment rights of the self-funded candidates. Will the Roberts Court once again side with the deep pocketed?

Wealth will win... again: In last year's Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court offered a "'more speech is better' mantra," suggesting that corporations, just like individuals, exercise their First Amendment rights through campaign spending, says Richard Hasen in Slate. So it might seem logical to expect that the court would back Arizona's public financing system, which tries to protect the First Amendment rights of candidates who would otherwise be outspent. But the court's five conservatives will almost certainly hand down a "'more speech is unfair' ruling this time," because "they have no problem with the wealthy using their resources to win elections."
"Rich candidate expected to win again"

This really is about free speech: The Supreme Court will "strike down Arizona's 'Clean Elections' scheme," and good riddance, says William Maurer in USA Today. The law punishes "traditionally funded candidates" by arming less-popular rivals with public cash — undermining the better-financed candidates' message, and effectively "discouraging" free speech. The constitution doesn't let states "skew the political playing field to favor government-funded candidates." 
"Law chills candidates' speech"

The court will side with public financing: Suggesting that Arizona's system stifles free speech is "perverse, and deeply antithetical to the nation's First Amendment tradition," say Charles Fried and Cliff Sloan in The New York Times. In voting in this law, the citizens of Arizona "abridged no speech, forbade nothing, restricted nothing." They've merely enabled other voices to be heard, too. Those same "principles of Citizens United should lead the Supreme Court to uphold Arizona's campaign finance law."
"Free speech worth paying for"

 

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