Last week at TheNation.com, writer John Nichols took the AFL-CIO to task for filing an amicus brief in support of Citizens United in its Supreme Court case.  I quoted Nichols at length in my original piece on the labor movement and the Citizens United ruling.  On Friday, the AFL-CIO pushed back.  In a letter to Nichols, the AFL’s lead lawyer, Laurence Gold, wrote at length about several inaccuracies in Nichols’ reporting and about the federation’s rationale for its brief.

The one inaccuracy of Nichols that I printed here was his assertion that the AFL-CIO “urged removal of reasonable restraints on campaign spending.”  Gold notes that the AFL-CIO sought specifically to end restrictions on advertisements that refer to federal candidates immediately before elections.  Gold writes:

“In mischaracterizing the AFL-CIO’s brief in Citizens United, you assert that the (federation’s) brief ‘urged removal of reasonable restraints on campaign spending,’ but you fail to tell your readers what ‘restraints’ we opposed or to defend them on their merits, leaving the false impression that we supported invalidating all restrictions on corporate independent expenditures,” he writes. “In fact, the AFL-CIO urged the Court, as we have consistently since the McCain-Feingold Law was enacted in 2002, to invalidate on First Amendment grounds that statute’s criminal prohibition against unions, other non-profit groups and (inevitably, the way the law was written) business corporations for broadcasting any messages that ‘refer’ to federal candidates, including incumbent officeholders, in the periods shortly before elections.” […]

“Like many Supreme Court cases, Citizens United entailed legal principles, arguments and potential consequences that called for serious engagement, and warranted our support for a particular legal outcome – here, the invalidation of the McCain-Feingold broadcast ban — that in the particular case would produce a perhaps strange-bedfellow victor.”

The AFL-CIO did think it had a vested interest in urging the court to rule in its favor on a limited part of this case.  This distinction is key in that it’s not like the AFL-CIO advocated for full removal of corporate campaign spending restrictions, and its brief specifically urged the Court not to rule beyond the case’s original scope to the greater issue it eventually decided on corporations and advocacy spending.  You can read the AFL-CIO’s full response to Nichols at The Nation.

Michael Whitney

Michael Whitney

My name is Michael Whitney. I'm a progressive online organizer working with FDL Action. Rush Limbaugh called me "clueless" once. He went into rehab two days later.