The Supreme Court upheld Monday a long-established provision of
campaign finance law that seeks to prevent foreign interests from
influencing domestic politics.
The US Supreme Court on Monday summarily affirmed a lower court
decision upholding a congressional ban on foreign nationals spending
money to influence the outcome of American elections.
The action upholds a long-established provision of campaign
finance law that seeks to prevent foreign interests from influencing
And it signals a possible retreat - in a presidential election
year - from the expansive free speech principles championed by the
high court in its controversial 2010 decision, Citizens United v.
At issue in Bluman v. FEC (11-275) was whether the First
Amendment protects a free speech right of foreign individuals in the
US to spend money supporting or opposing a particular candidate or
The Bluman case was viewed as a potential sequel to the Citizens
United decision. In that case the justices invalidated a
congressional ban on corporate and labor union spending for election-
related advertisements and other communications.
The high court ruled 5-4 that corporations and labor unions enjoy
a First Amendment right to spend their money to run independent
advertisements supporting a favored issue or candidate during
The Bluman case raised a similar First Amendment issue. The case
sought to extend the same free speech principles to campaign finance
laws blocking election contributions and expenditures by foreign
residents in the US.
The high court was apparently uninterested in examining the issue
in greater detail. Instead, the justices delivered a four-word
opinion: "The judgment is affirmed."
The First Amendment protects the broad right of non-citizens to
comment on US elections and candidates. But Congress banned
political contributions and electioneering expenditures from foreign
entities and foreign citizens, other than those who are lawful
permanent residents of the US.
The Bluman case questioned why First Amendment free speech
protections don't also extend to foreign citizens who are legally
present in the US on a temporary work visa.
The case was filed on behalf of two individuals who are in the US
on work visas that are set to expire in 2012.
Benjamin Bluman is Canadian and works as an associate at a New
York law firm. Despite his status as a non-permanent resident, Mr.
Bluman wants to contribute to Democratic candidates running in US
Asenath Steiman is a dual citizen of Canada and Israel. She works
as a physician in New York and wants to contribute to Republican
candidates running in US elections.
Both claimed the First Amendment protects their right to make
political contributions despite the fact that they are not permanent
The Federal Election Commission countered that Congress was
within its authority to bar participation by those who have no
permanent connection to the country.
A three-judge panel in Washington dismissed the case, ruling that
a "fairly clear line" has been established that the government can
exclude foreign citizens from participating in activities that are
intimately related to the process of democratic self-government.
The court upheld both a contribution ban and an expenditure ban,
saying it was a justifiable way for Congress to seek to limit
foreign influence in US elections.
The case sought to explore an inconsistency in the application of
constitutional rights to those present in the US.
Many rights guaranteed in the Constitution apply equally to all
citizens and foreigners present in the US, such as the protections
of the criminal justice system. There is a right to public education
and welfare, as well as the ability to work. But the right to
participate in self-government is reserved to citizens. …