Landmark Supreme Court Ruling On Corporate Political Speech

Adam Bonin

In a landmark campaign finance opinion released Thursday morning, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the government cannot ban corporations from making direct expenditures from their own funds for speech in support of, or in opposition to, candidates for elected office. The decision explicitly overturns decades of precedent allowing such bans, and is effective immediately.

The case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, concerned the ability of a nonprofit corporation to air advertisements on broadcast and cable television regarding the availability on video-on-demand of a documentary it had produced critical of Hillary Clinton. The Federal Election Commission found such advertisements illegal under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (commonly known as “McCain-Feingold”), which prevented such corporate-funded advertisements from airing within 30 days of the then-pending presidential primaries. The Court’s decision today empowers corporate speakers to engage in virtually unlimited independent advertising, across all forms of media, to promote or oppose federal, state and local candidates for office.

Writing for the Court’s 5-4 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy held, “The Government may commit a constitutional wrong when by law it identifies certain preferred speakers. By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the Government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The Government may not by these means deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration. The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.”

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