Punctuated-Equilibrium Framework and Citizens United

Policy change doesn’t happen overnight, even though that is how it seems.  The general public notices after a landmark piece of legislation passes or a major Supreme Court decision occurs, but does anyone pay attention to all the incremental steps that occurred before the big news-making event?

The Supreme Court decision on the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (more commonly just referred to as “Citizens United”) can be used to demonstrate the Punctuated-Equilibrium Framework.  This landmark decision didn’t happen overnight.  Rewind the clock eight years and look at the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (aka: McCain-Feingold Act or BRCA) that was a strike against “issue ads and soft money” that was signed into law by President Bush.[1]  This law was immediately challenged in 2003 by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and brought to the Supreme Court the case McConnell v. Federal Election Commission but the two main provisions around soft money and issue ads were upheld in a 5-4 fashion.[2]  In 2003, Sandra Day O’Conner voted with the majority on this case, but she retired in 2005 and was replaced with Samuel Alito in 2006 by President Bush, swinging the court back to a 5-4 vote the other way as these provisions returned in the famous Citizens United decision.[3] As the Punctuated-Equilibrium Framework suggests, a major policy shift occurred in 2010 with one Supreme Court decision that was the result of almost a decade of debate and incremental changes.

For those of you who want to advocate for change, remember that the system in the United States works very slowly.  Policy change is more of a marathon than a sprint.

[1] Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Sunlight Foundation. Available at: http://www.opencongress.org/wiki/Bipartisan_Campaign_Reform_Act_of_2002, accessed February 19, 2014.

[2] Court Case Abstracts. Federal Election Commission. Available at: http://www.fec.gov/law/litigation_CCA_M.shtml, accessed February 19, 2014.

[3] Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Available at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf, accessed February 19, 2014.

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Joey Mattingly, PharmD, MBA is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy located in Baltimore, Maryland. Joey has managed retail and long-term care pharmacy operations in Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. Leading Over The Counter is a blog of Joey's views and opinions on the topics of pharmacy leadership and management and do not represent the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Joey can be followed on Twitter @joeymattingly.

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