Several protesters disrupted the start of business at the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of the court's contentious ruling that lifted limits on corporate spending in federal election campaigns.
The usually tranquil Supreme Court chambers were jarred when one person stood up and denounced the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling just as the justices prepared to begin issuing decisions on cases argued earlier in the term.
After a brief scuffle with security officers, the protester was escorted out of the chambers. As they were leaving, two other protesters began shouting “One person, one vote” and “The 99 percent,” a reference to Americans excluded from the privileges enjoyed by the richest 1 percent.
The commotion lasted only a few minutes before the court returned to its business of issuing rulings and hearing oral arguments in a closely watched housing-discrimination case.
Later that day, President Barack Obama weighed in on the 2010 ruling, stating his disagreement with the court’s decision. “A Supreme Court ruling allowed big companies — including foreign corporations — to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections,” he said in a statement released by the White House. “The Citizens United decision was wrong, and it has caused real harm to our democracy.”
The court's 5-4 decision in the case dismantled restrictions on independent corporate and union expenditures in federal elections.
The conservative justices in the majority emphasized the free speech rights of corporations under the U.S. Constitution and found that the government had no right to regulate political speech. The court’s liberals warned that such unfettered campaign spending would have a corrosive effect on democracy.
Critics argue that the ruling opened the floodgates for money from corporations and undisclosed donors to flow into American politics and further boosted the influence of the wealthy in the electoral process.
Since the Citizens United ruling, there has been an escalation in such spending in U.S. presidential and congressional elections.
“Rather than bolster the power of lobbyists and special interests, Washington should lift up the voices of ordinary Americans and protect their democratic right to determine the direction of the country that we love,” Obama said.
Wednesday’s protest was not the first disruption of court proceedings over the controversial 2010 ruling. A Los Angeles man in February 2014 interrupted a patent case by shouting a number of slogans, including “Money is not speech,” “Corporations are not people” and “Overturn Citizens United.”
Outbursts in the Supreme Court are rare. The highest-profile incident took place in 1983, when Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt was ejected from the court for shouting obscenities at the justices during oral arguments in a libel case.
Al Jazeera and wire services