Citizens United v. FEC
by Super User, 3 months ago
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In episode 10 of Supreme Court Briefs, a corporation argues it has the right to spend as much money as it wants on a political campaign because of the First Amendment.
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A self-described conservative non-profit corporation called Citizens United wants to release a documentary. The film, called Hillary: The Movie, (hey that’s a pretty catchy title) talks a bunch of trash about Hillary Clinton, who just so happens to be running for President. Citizens United wanted to distribute and advertise the film within a month before the Democratic primary elections in January 2008.
However, this would be a violation of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, aka BCRA (bikruh), aka the McCain-Feingold Act, the latest law that limited how political campaigns were paid for.
BCRA said corporations or labor unions can’t spend money from their general treasury to broadcast anything through the mass media that specifically brings up a candidate running for federal office within 30 days of a primary.
Anticipating that the Federal Election Commission, or FEC, might try to stop the release of their documentary, Citizens United went ahead and took the FEC to the United States District Court, essentially saying “don’t even think about it, FEC.” Citizens United claimed BCRA didn’t apply to Hillary: The Movie, because the film wasn’t clearly for or against a candidate. It also claimed that the Supreme Court decision FEC v. Wisconsin Right To Life justified them releasing the film within 30 days of the Democratic primaries. Not only that, but Citizens United argued that portions of BCRA straight up violated the FIrst Amendment to the Constitution.
On January 15, 2008, the three-judge U.S. District Court said “nope, sorry Citizens United.” You can’t have your injunction, you gotta let the FEC regulate. The court said the film was clearly just meant to get people to not vote for Hillary Clinton, I mean...it was called Hillary: The Movie, for crying out loud. They also said the film was meant to be strategically shown right before the primaries for this purpose, and they cited the Supreme Court decision in McConnell v. FEC as justification that the FEC could prevent the showing up this film.
Citizens United was like you know what? I’m appealing to the Supreme Court.
Now, as you know, this can be a long process. What ended up happening was Hillary Clinton did not get the Democratic nomination and Barack Obama ended up being elected President later that year. But that ended up being irrelevant other than the fact that Obama nominated a new justice, Sonia Sotomayor, that agreed with the justice she replaced, David Souter. Throughout 2009, the Supreme Court heard multiple arguments about the case. The Court had remained very divided on the issue. Things got pretty philosophical.
Finally, on January 21, 2010, the Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Citizens United, arguing that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment prohibited the government from limiting money spent by corporations, labor unions, and other associations, on political campaigns. Specifically, we’re talking about independent political expenditures, or political campaign contributions not directly affiliated with the candidate. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”
The Court's ruling basically freed corporations and unions to spend as much money as they want to elect or defeat candidates, as long as they didn’t contribute directly to candidates or political parties.
The majority also argued that First Amendment protects ASSOCIATIONS of individuals, not just individual speakers, so you can’t prohibit speech based on the identity of the speaker. So corporations have free speech rights just like you or I.
The idea of Corporate Personhood, or the legal notion that corporations share some of the same legal rights and responsibilities held by individuals, had pretty much been established by the Supreme Court since the 1800s. In this case, the Court definitely ruled that corporations are people man, corporations are people.
Justice John Paul Stevens...