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Former justice predicts cracks in Citizens United decision

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens took a poke at the controversial Citizens United decision Wednesday night and said his former colleagues have probably already had second thoughts about it.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens speaks at a lecture presented by the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Ark., Wednesday, May 30.

The 2010 decision paved the way for the SuperPACs to which wealthy individuals, corporations, and labor unions can give unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose candidates.  Stevens was among the justices who dissented in the court's 5-4 ruling.

In remarks prepared for delivery at the University of Arkansas, Stevens predicted that the court will soon be forced to issue rulings that will undermine a key part of the Citizens United ruling -- that the First Amendment "prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker's identity," including the fact that the speaker is a corporation.

The court's decision left undecided whether the same free speech right applies to foreign corporations. In due course, Stevens said, the court will be called upon to decide that question, forcing it to craft an exception "that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion."

"The court must then explain its abandonment of, or at least qualify its reliance upon, the proposition that the identity of the speaker is an impermissible basis for regulating campaign speech.  It will be necessary to explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection of some non-voters than to that of other non-voters," he said.

Stevens said a recent Supreme Court action may also undermine Citizens United.  In January, the justices upheld a lower court ruling that said two non-citizens could not make political contributions to political candidates.  It's therefore now settled, Stevens said, "that the identity of some speakers may provide a legally acceptable basis for restricting speech" through contributions.

Unlike most retired Supreme Court justices, John Paul Stevens has not been reluctant to criticize the rulings of his former colleagues.