Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 130 S.Ct. 876 (Jan. 21, 2010), is a landmark decision from the United States Supreme Court. In 2008, Citizens United produced a television documentary attacking Hillary Clinton, then a candidate for President. It wanted to pay a video on demand service to make the documentary available during the primary election season; however, this was considered illegal under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance act. The group sued, arguing both that McCain-Feingold does not apply to video-on-demand services and that McCain-Feingold is unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court agreed to an unusually early fall sitting so it could decide the case before the 2010 primary elections, and after much anticipation the Court released its 5-4 decision on January 21, 2010. It overturned significant parts of the McCain-Feingold Act restricting campaign finance contributions, by holding that it violates the First Amendment. This decision limited the monopoly on political influence enjoyed by the liberal media, by granting to other corporations the same unlimited political spending rights that the media already have—which is why liberals deplore this ruling.
The major impact of the decision is simply this: corporations may now spend unlimited amounts in favor or against a candidate, as long as the expenditure is independent of the campaign and not a donation to the campaign. Wal-Mart could spend $100 million directly to defeat a pro-union candidate. Unions are also allowed to spend unlimited amounts.
This was the decision singled out for criticism by President Barack Obama in an unprecedented manner during his State of the Union address in January 2010, which created an awkward moment as the U.S. Supreme Court Justices sat silently, as is tradition, despite the chastising. Justice Samuel Alito was reportedly observed mouthing disagreement with Obama’s criticism.
During oral argument, book banning became a contentious issue. Justice Alito asked the question regarding the government’s ability to ban books to which the response from Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm L. Stewart was ‘yes’. He said “a corporation could be barred from using its general treasury funds to publish the book and could be required to use — to raise funds to publish the book using its PAC” if “it has one name, one use of the candidate’s name.” After a break and rebriefing, the case was re-argued by Solicitor General Elena Kagan. Kagan retracted the government’s claim that it can ban books or pamphlets, but in an unconvincing way.
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