Stephen Breyer on Government Reform

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. Clinton 1994)

Campaign finance reform should level candidate playing field

Justices Ginsburg and Breyer embraced the principle was EQUALITY: Leveling the playing field was an important characteristic of campaign finance reform, they maintained, and the political branches should be given ample room to decide how to handle the difficult issues it presents. They embraced the idea that a donor's contribution to a political campaign triggers the First Amendment: "A decision to contribute money to a campaign is a matter of First Amendment concern--not because money is speech (it is not) but because it enables speech." On the other hand, contribution limits reflect an effort to "protect the integrity of the electoral process--the means through which a free society democratically translates political speech into concrete governmental action." Invoking the equality principle, they added: "Moreover, by limiting the size of the largest contributions, such restrictions aim to democratize the influence that money itself may bring upon the electoral process."
Source: First Among Equals, by Kenneth Starr, p. 84-85 , Oct 10, 2002

Votes with liberal bloc against states’ rights

The nine court members can be divided into three general alliances, but all of the justices have crossed ideological lines. The three conservative justices and two of the swing justices usually support states’ rights [while the liberal bloc, including Breyer, do not].

Breyer is a consistently liberal voice on the court. He recently affirmed the right of disabled people to sue states under federal civil rights law.

Source: Reuters article in Boston Globe, p. A45 , Dec 1, 2000

Corporate speech can be restricted but not banned.

Justice Breyer joined the dissent on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on Jan 21, 2010:

Prior to the 2008 primary elections, Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to educating the American public about their rights and the government, produced a politically conservative 90-minute documentary entitled Hillary: The Movie. This documentary covers Hillary Clinton's record while in the Senate & the White House. However, The Movie falls within the definition of "electioneering communications" under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 ("BCRA")--a federal enactment designed to prevent "big money" from unfairly influencing federal elections--which, among other things, prohibits corporate financing of electioneering communications. The FEC [enforced the provision] of BCRA prohibiting corporations from broadcasting electioneering communications within 60 days of a general election. [The Supreme Court rules that this] violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

Justice Kennedy , Opinion of the Court (Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas concurring):

Some members of the public might consider "Hillary: The Movie" to be insightful and instructive; some might find it to be neither high art nor a fair discussion on how to set the Nation's course; still others simply might suspend judgment on these points but decide to think more about issues and candidates. Those choices and assessments, however, are not for the Government to make.

Justice Stevens (dissent joined by Ginsburg , Breyer, and Sotomayor)

Neither Citizens United's nor any other corporation's speech has been "banned." All that the parties dispute is whether Citizens United had a right to use the funds in its general treasury to pay for broadcasts during the 30-day period. The notion that the First Amendment [allows that] is, in my judgment, profoundly misguided. Although I concur in the Court's decision to sustain BCRA's disclosure provisions, I emphatically dissent from its principal holding.

Source: Supreme Court case 08_CU_FEC argued on Mar 24, 2009

Public campaign finance can fund based on opponent spending.

Justice Breyer joined the dissent on AZ FREEDOM CLUB PAC v. BENNETT on Jun 27, 2011:

An Arizona public campaign financing law allowed a person who agreed to the restrictions of a publicly financed campaign to receive an initial allotment from the state. That initial allotment was increased when the spending of a privately financed opponent together with the spending of any independent group exceeded that initial allotment. The public funds to match opponent expenditures topped out at two times the initial allotment.

HELD: Delivered by Roberts; joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas & Alito

Arizona's public financing law places a burden on privately financed candidates. If privately financed candidates spend money above a certain level, they necessarily entitle their publicly financed opponents to greater funding. Their First Amendment right to free speech in a political matter--which includes spending money on their campaigns--is inhibited. Independent groups do not qualify for public financing at all, but their spending still may lead to a funding increase for the candidates the independent groups oppose. Leveling the playing is not a compelling state interest justifying a burden on a First Amendment right, nor is combating corruption. Arizona would be free to give the maximum amount to all public candidates, but that does not justify inhibiting the free speech of candidates and independent groups.

DISSENT: Kagan dissents; joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor

The First Amendment's core purpose is to foster a political system full of robust discussion and debate. Arizona's public campaign finance did not restrict speech, it increased speech through public subsidy with the goal of decreasing the corruption of both quid pro quo campaign payments made in exchange for official acts or an office seeker feeling beholden to his great financial supporters. Any burden on free speech, the burden could hardly be more substantial than what the Court announces would be legal: a larger, up-front allotment to a public candida
Source: Supreme Court case 11-AZ-PAC argued on Mar 28, 2011

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Other Justices on Government Reform: Stephen Breyer on other issues:
Samuel Alito
Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Elena Kagan
Anthony Kennedy
John Roberts
Antonin Scalia
Sonia Sotomayor
Clarence Thomas

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Sandra Day O'Connor
William Rehnquist
John Paul Stevens

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Page last updated: Jul 13, 2015