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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Supreme Court Rules for Freedom of Speech in Citizens United

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that corporations may spend as freely as they like to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, easing decades-old limits on business efforts to influence federal campaigns.

By a 5-4 vote, the court overturned a 20-year-old ruling that said companies can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads. The decision, which almost certainly will also allow labor unions to participate more freely in campaigns, threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.

It leaves in place a prohibition on direct contributions to candidates from corporations and unions.

Critics of the stricter limits have argued that they amount to an unconstitutional restraint of free speech, and the court majority agreed.

Source: Washington Post

And this from Jonathan Adler:

The Court held 5–4 that restrictions on independent corporate expenditures in political campaigns are unconstitutional, overruling Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and parts of McConnell v. FEC, and it upheld the disclosure requirements 8–1 (Thomas dissenting). Justice Kennedy explained that the Court was overruling some of its prior decisions because it was not possible to rule in favor of the petitioners on narrower grounds without chilling protected political speech. According to Justice Kennedy, the Court is re-embracing the principle that a speaker’s corporate identity is not a sufficient basis for suppressing political speech, as held in pre–Austin cases. It would appear this holding applies equally to unions. While disclosure requirements may also burden political speech, Justice Kennedy explained, such requirements may be justified by the government’s interest in ensuring that the electorate has information about spending on elections and campaigns, and the specific disclosure requirements at issue are constitutional as-applied to Citizens United. The opinion also includes a substantial discussion of stare decisis, and why such considerations counseled overturning prior precedents.

Related: SCOTUSblog
Related: NRO Bench Memos

Download a PDF of the decision, or read below:

Citizens Opinion