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Supreme Court of the United States
Argued March 24, 2009
Reargued September 9, 2009
Full case name Citizens United, Appellant v. Federal Election Commission
Docket nos. 08-205
Prior history defendant granted summary judgement 530 F. Supp. 2d 274 (D.C. 2008), certiorari granted U.S.
Whether federal campaign finance laws apply to a critical film about Senator Hillary Clinton intended to be shown in theaters and on-demand to cable subscribers.
John G. Roberts
John P. Stevens · Antonin Scalia
Anthony Kennedy · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Samuel Alito · Sonia Sotomayor
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is an ongoing legal case in which the United States Supreme Court will decide whether a politically charged film can be defined as a "campaign ad" under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act. This case is an appeal from a lower court case of the same name from 2008, in which the United States District Court for the District of Columbia sided with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that Hillary: The Movie could not be shown on television right before the 2008 Democratic primaries under the McCain-Feingold Act. Legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky called it “one of the most important First Amendment cases in years.”
Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit organization, wanted to run television commercials promoting its film Hillary: The Movie, a documentary critical of then-Senator Hillary Clinton. In January 2008, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the commercials violated the provision in the McCain-Feingold Act restricting "electioneering communications" 30 days before primaries and clearly had no other purpose than discredit Clinton; Citizens United argued that the film was fact-based and nonpartisan.
The Supreme Court docketed this case on August 18, 2008, and heard oral arguments on March 24, 2009. A decision was expected sometime in the early summer months of 2009.
However, on June 29, 2009, the Supreme Court issued an order directing the parties to reargue the case on September 9 after issuing briefs on larger issues. At oral argument, Citizens United is to address the following question: "For the disposition of this case, should the Court overrule either or both Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the part of McConnell v. FEC which addresses the facial validity of Section 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002?”
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights that expressly prohibits the Congress from making laws "respecting an establishment of religion", prohibiting the free exercise of religion, infringing the freedom of speech, infringing the freedom of the press, limiting the right to peaceably assemble, or limiting the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Although the First Amendment only explicitly applies to the Congress, the Supreme Court has interpreted it as applying to the executive and judicial branches. Additionally, in the 20th century, the Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies the limitations of the First Amendment to each state, including any local government within a state.
On December 13, 2007, Citizens United, a nonprofit membership corporation, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the constitutionality of the statutory provisions governing disclaimers on, and disclosure and funding of, certain "electioneering communications" (ECs). On January 15, 2008, the District Court denied Citizens United’s motion for a preliminary injunction, in which Citizens United requested that the court prevent the FEC from enforcing its electioneering communications provisions.
An EC is a broadcast, cable or satellite communication that refers to a clearly identified federal candidate and is publicly distributed within 30 days of a primary election or within 60 days of a general election. 2 U.S.C. §434(f)(3)(A)(i) and 11 CFR 100.29(a). Corporations and labor organizations are generally prohibited from using their general treasury funds to finance ECs. 2 U.S.C. §441b(b)(2) and 11 CFR 114.2(b)(2)(iii).
The Commission recently modified its regulations governing the funding of ECs by corporations and labor organizations in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. (WRTL II). In that case the Supreme Court held that because the ads in question were not the "functional equivalent of express advocacy," the prohibition on corporate or labor organization funding of ECs was unconstitutional as applied to WRTL’s ads. The Court further held that a communication is the "functional equivalent of express advocacy" only if it "is susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate."
The FEC revised its rules to provide a general exemption from the prohibition on corporate and labor organization funding of ECs unless the communication is susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified federal candidate. The revised regulations do not exempt any ECs from the reporting and disclaimer requirements.
In an 1816 letter, Thomas Jefferson declared his hope to “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
There are two precedents at stake in Wednesday’s rehearing of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. One is the court’s 1990 decision in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, in which it upheld a state law that said corporations could be barred from spending their profits to urge a candidate’s election or defeat.
The second is part of the 2003 decision upholding Congress’s Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The court ruled 5 to 4 that Congress may curtail corporate spending on advertising that mentions a candidate shortly before an election, even if it does not explicitly support or oppose that person.
Three current justices — Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas — have said Austin should be overturned, and all three said in McConnell v. FEC that McCain-Feingold violates the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech. Those who favor the restrictions said a recognition that government may treat corporations and individuals differently when it comes to political spending dates back more than 100 years.
The influence in money corporate and union and soft money on the lgustrative process, it was Roosevelt that talked about the corrupting influence of big money in politics, and the issue of corporate funding and union funding has not been an issue since early early in the last century, now there are certain judges alleging corporations have the same rights as citizens, I dont accept that premise.
And of course were concerned when a court sets a special argument and not an issue relating specifically to Mccain Feingold but whether that law should be over turned and the idea in an era of AIG and Exxon that their corporate treasuries would be opened up to destroy the political processes is a very bizarre time for these justices to be considered to destroy this long standing law that has protected our Democracy.
One thing I know that if the court over turns long standing bans for Bicra or Mccain Feingold,the ban on corporate and union campaign contributions, I think you will see an era of corruption and then you will see an era of reform. Just as you've seen throughout our history.
And if they do it strictly on a first amendment ground, not allowing us to regislate, they will disable the Government. The representatives of the people of this country from ever fixing the campaign finance system. That could be the result of this, we could have no ability to change it at all.
Does anyone believe that the rights of average citizens to be heard in washington would not be over ridden by massive , unlimited campaign contributions? Corporations and Unions? That is a disconnect from reality! We saw the corruption, and we acted and that's why congress acted. Not in congress's self interest but because it was a demand on the part of the American people for us to act and we did.