Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Summary |

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Summary |

– [Narrator] Hillary The
Movie was a documentary created by Citizens United,
a non-profit corporation designed to be a feature length
attack on Hillary Clinton. The movie sparked more than
just political controversy during the 2008 election. It also led to a landmark United States Supreme Court case about the regulation of campaign spending by corporations. Section 441B of the
Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 prohibits corporations
from publicly advocating for or against a candidate
before an election. The act authorized the
Federal Election Commission to enforce this prohibition. Citizens United requested
a preliminary injunction against the Federal Election Commission in an attempt to prevent the Commission from applying the act
to Hillary The Movie. The non-profit argued that the act was an unconstitutional
restriction on political speech by corporations and it therefore, violated the First Amendment to the
United States Constitution. The District Court denied the injunction relying on precedent that had previously upheld Section 441B as constitutional. Using this special
procedures under the act Citizens United skipped
the Court of Appeals and petitioned directly to the
United States Supreme Court. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether restrictions
on independent expenditures by corporations to expressly
advocate for or against a political candidate are constitutional under the First Amendment’s
Freedom of Speech protections. The court held that
corporations have the right to freedom of political speech and that the government may not restrict independent political expenditures based on the speaker’s corporate identity. Previously, in Buckley versus Valeo, in 1976, the court had indicated that the First Amendment does not allow political speech restrictions based on a speaker’s corporate identity. In that case, the court
drew a distinction between pocket to pocket campaign contributions which go from a corporation directly to a political candidate. And independent
expenditures, which support a particular candidate, but don’t directly go into the candidate’s pocket. The Buckley Court held
that statutory limits on corporate contributions
are generally constitutional. But restrictions on independent
expenditures aren’t. But the court took a different tact in Austin versus Michigan
Chamber of Commerce in 1990. In that case, the court
found that corporate wealth corrupts the political process. And that corporation
independent expenditures to advocate for or against
a political candidate can be constitutionally restricted. Writing for a five to four majority Justice Kennedy determined
that Austin went too far. Millions of corporations, he noted, don’t have access to
large amounts of wealth to spend on political campaigns. Kennedy further reasoned
that political speech, even from a corporation, is indispensable to a well-functioning democracy. Additionally, the court found no evidence that corporate speech promotes corruption of the political process. Even if evidence of corruption existed the government’s interests
in preventing corruption doesn’t outweigh the
corporation’s constitutionally protected interests in free speech. The court overruled Austin and held that Section 441B can’t constitutionally restrict independent expenditures by corporations to support or oppose
a political candidate. The court revered the
District Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of Section 441B and remanded the case back
to the District Court. Chief Justice Roberts
filed a concurring opinion. Arguing that principals of
stare decisis didn’t justify continued adherence to Austin. Justice Stevens wrote an
opinion dissenting in part and concurring in part stating that there is a serious need to limit corporate political speech. Stevens argued that the majority took a radical departure from
established First Amendment law. According to Stevens, the
framers were suspicious of corporations, and
intentionally gave corporations less political speech
protections than individuals. The framers considered
unlimited corporate speech and large pools of corporate wealth to be a lethal combination
that would corrupt the democratic process. Justice Scalia wrote a concurring opinion criticizing Stevens’ dissent. Scalia argued that the
Framers didn’t resent corporations as they exist today. The Framers merely
resented the state granted monopoly privileges that
many corporations enjoyed in the founding era. Because these monopoly
privileges no longer exist, Scalia argued that the
Framers wouldn’t strip today’s corporations of
the right to free speech. Lastly, Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part,
and dissenting in part. Thomas agreed with the majority but would have gone further. He would have struck down
the act’s disclosure, disclaimer, and reporting
requirements, as well. Citizens United versus the
Federal Elections Commission was a landmark case that paved the way for giving corporations the same freedoms of political speech
that individuals enjoy. The case caused substantial controversy. With front row seats at President Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address the nine justices listened as President Obama
criticized the courts ruling for reversing a century of law and allowing elections to be bankrolled by the wealthiest corporations.


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    Dennis Walker

    I'm still trying to figure out how Obama had the audacity to complain about citizens United with all of his unconstitutional actions .

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    Peter Abramovic

    A corporation is not a person and their influence has corrupted modern politics so citizens united must be overturned to stop the corruption in Washington.

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    While a first amendment right can be used in a way that is detrimental, you can’t take away the freedoms granted to us in the Constitution. Just because you don’t like something does not give you the right to take away my first amendment freedoms.

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