Citizens United v. FEC (2010)

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Modified: 29th Nov 2023
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Facts

In 2008, Citizens United, a non-profit corporation, produced a documentary critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, entitled "Hillary: The Movie". They sought to distribute the movie and ads through Video on Demand service. However, this violated the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002, also characterized as the McCain-Feingold Act, which banned corporations, both profit and non-profit, and trade unions from making "electioneering communications" within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election (Biskupic, 2010).

Issue

The key question was whether provisions in the BCRA prohibiting corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds for independent 'electioneering communication' violated the First Amendment's free speech clause (Barnett and Duvall, 2010).

Holding and Rule

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, overruled the limits on independent corporate expenditures in federal elections imposed under the BCRA. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, found that these limitations were an overbroad restriction of free speech, arguing that “The government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether”. The Court held that corporations, like individuals, have First Amendment rights. The Court, however, upheld requirements for public disclosure by sponsors of advertisements (Barnett and Duvall, 2010).

Disposition

The high court reversed the decision of the district court, thus permitting corporations and unions to use their treasury funds to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. However, corporations and unions were still forbidden from directly donating funds to campaigns. By contrast, the restrictions on 'electioneering communications' were deemed unconstitutional, thereby shaking up longstanding precedent regarding the role of corporations in political campaign financing (Biskupic, 2010).

References

Barnett, B., & Duvall, L. (2010). 'Citizens United v. F.E.C.: The Constitutional Right That Big Corporations Should Have Defended'. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, 33(3), pp. 987-1016.
Biskupic, J. (2010). 'Explaining Citizens United vs. FEC'. USA Today.

Issue

The key question was whether provisions in the BCRA prohibiting corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds for independent 'electioneering communication' violated the First Amendment's free speech clause (Barnett and Duvall, 2010).

Holding and Rule

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, overruled the limits on independent corporate expenditures in federal elections imposed under the BCRA. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, found that these limitations were an overbroad restriction of free speech, arguing that “The government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether”. The Court held that corporations, like individuals, have First Amendment rights. The Court, however, upheld requirements for public disclosure by sponsors of advertisements (Barnett and Duvall, 2010).

Disposition

The high court reversed the decision of the district court, thus permitting corporations and unions to use their treasury funds to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. However, corporations and unions were still forbidden from directly donating funds to campaigns. By contrast, the restrictions on 'electioneering communications' were deemed unconstitutional, thereby shaking up longstanding precedent regarding the role of corporations in political campaign financing (Biskupic, 2010).

References

Barnett, B., & Duvall, L. (2010). 'Citizens United v. F.E.C.: The Constitutional Right That Big Corporations Should Have Defended'. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, 33(3), pp. 987-1016.
Biskupic, J. (2010). 'Explaining Citizens United vs. FEC'. USA Today.

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