"Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission" (2010) is a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that significantly altered the landscape of political campaign financing in the United States. This decision is widely recognized for its impact on election laws and its contributions to the ongoing debate over the influence of money in politics.
- Citizens United: The case originated from a conservative nonprofit organization, Citizens United, which produced a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton, a candidate in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries.
- Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA): Citizens United challenged the provisions of the BCRA (also known as the McCain-Feingold Act), which prohibited corporations and unions from funding 'electioneering communications' from their general treasuries in the time leading up to an election.
The Legal Issues:
- First Amendment and Free Speech: The primary legal issue was whether the BCRA's restrictions on independent expenditures by corporations and unions violated the First Amendment's protection of free speech.
- 5-4 Majority: The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled in favor of Citizens United.
- Opinion by Justice Kennedy: Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Alito, and Thomas.
- Corporate Speech Rights: The Court held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for political communications by corporations, including nonprofit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.
Key Legal Points:
- Free Speech for Corporations: The decision established that corporations have a First Amendment right to free speech, and that spending money on political communications is a form of protected speech.
- Invalidation of BCRA Provisions: The Court struck down BCRA's restrictions on independent corporate expenditures as unconstitutional.
- Disclosure and Disclaimer Provisions Upheld: The Court upheld the BCRA's disclosure requirements for political advertising sponsors and disclaimer requirements in political advertising.
Impact and Legacy:
- Increase in Political Spending: The decision led to a significant increase in political spending, particularly through independent expenditures from corporations and labor unions.
- Rise of Super PACs: It contributed to the rise of Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs), which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against political candidates.
- Continuing Controversy: "Citizens United v. FEC" remains one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions, with ongoing debates about its effects on American democracy and calls for campaign finance reform.
"Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission" reshaped the rules governing political campaign spending in the U.S., sparking a national debate about the role of money in politics and the nature of free speech rights for corporations.