The New York Times' editorial page was shocked and appalled that, a mere two years after the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court dealt summarily with a plea by the state of Montana that it revisit the issue of corporate spending on political campaigns. Whatever you think of Citizens United, the idea that the high court would upend such a fresh precedent is fantastic. In upholding the Montana law, that state's Supreme Court was cruising for a judicial bruising.
The doctrine of stare decisis is not absolute. Otherwise the Supreme Court couldn’t have overruled the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson decision allowing “separate but equal” public accommodations. But 58 years elapsed between Plessy and the court’s Brown vs. Board of Education school desegregation ruling.
I’m not saying that the court should wait that long to reconsider the question of whether independent expenditures by corporations during an election pose a sufficient danger of corruption to justify limits on their speech. But two years?
Granted, the Montana case involved a state law while Citizens United dealt with the McCain-Feingold law passed by Congress. But the 1990 decision overruled by Citizens United, Austin vs. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, also involved a state law, and, anyway, states must abide by the Supreme Court's interpretation of the 1st Amendment. As the court put it in an unsigned opinion overturning the Montana Supreme Court: “The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does.” (The New York Times called this eminently predictable conclusion “dismissive.”)