January 19, 2012 11:20AM

The Citizens United Anniversary

The second anniversary of the Citizens United decision has arrived bringing with it a new poll by The New York Times and CBS News. Question 68 asks whether groups unaffiliated with a candidate should be permitted to spend unlimited sums on advertisements during a political campaign. 67 percent say such spending should be limited; 29 percent say it should not be limited.

Three points here.

First, the majority disagrees not just with Citizens United but also with the basic campaign finance law decision, Buckley v. Valeo, which established that while contributions could be limited, spending could not be restricted under the First Amendment.

Second, it is discouraging but not surprising that freedom of speech in this concrete case does not receive majority support. While majorities support the First Amendment as an abstract symbol, polling has shown for decades that majorities oppose concrete applications of many provisions of the Bill of Rights. It is good, therefore, that a constitutional republic is not just rule of a majority.

Third, the glass is half full. Support for spending unlimited sums on advertisements has increased by 45 percent over the last 15 months (from 20 to 29 percent). The trend is better than the headline number. Moreover, after a few elections, independent spending may become less a partisan issue, thereby adding to the support for free speech by such groups.