Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States regarding campaign finance laws and free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was argued in 2009 and decided in 2010. The court held 5-4 that the free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for political campaigns by corporations, including nonprofit corporations, labor unions, and other associations.

Quick facts: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commissio...
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
Argued March 24, 2009
Reargued September 9, 2009
Decided January 21, 2010
Full case nameCitizens United, Appellant v. Federal Election Commission
Docket no.08-205
Citations558 U.S. 310 (more)
130 S. Ct. 876; 175 L. Ed. 2d 753; 2010 U.S. LEXIS 766
ArgumentOral argument
ReargumentReargument
Opinion announcementOpinion announcement
Case history
PriorMotion for preliminary injunction denied, 530 F. Supp. 2d 274 (D.D.C. 2008);[1] probable jurisdiction noted, 555 U.S. 1028 (2008).
Holding
The provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 restricting unions, corporations, and profitable organizations from independent political spending and prohibiting the broadcasting of political media funded by them within sixty days of general elections or thirty days of primary elections violate the freedom of speech that is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. United States District Court for the District of Columbia reversed.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
John P. Stevens · Antonin Scalia
Anthony Kennedy · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Samuel Alito · Sonia Sotomayor
Case opinions
MajorityKennedy, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Alito; Thomas (all but Part IV); Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor (Part IV)
ConcurrenceRoberts, joined by Alito
ConcurrenceScalia, joined by Alito; Thomas (in part)
Concur/dissentStevens, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor
Concur/dissentThomas
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002
This case overturned a previous ruling or rulings
Close

The case began after Citizens United, a conservative non-profit organization, sought to air and advertise a film critical of then Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton shortly before the 2008 Democratic primary elections. Broadcasting the film would have been a violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which prohibited any corporation, non-profit organization or labor union from making an "electioneering communication" within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of an election, or making any expenditure advocating the election or defeat of a candidate at any time. Citizens United challenged the constitutionality of this law, and its case reached the Supreme Court.

In a majority opinion joined by four other justices, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy held that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act's prohibition of all independent expenditures by corporations and unions violated the First Amendment's protection of free speech. The court overruled Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990), which had allowed a prohibition on election spending by incorporated entities, as well as a portion of McConnell v. FEC (2003) that had upheld restricted corporate spending on "electioneering communications." The ruling effectively freed corporations (including incorporated non-profit organizations) to spend money on electioneering communications and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates. In a dissenting opinion, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens argued that the court's ruling represented "a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government."[2]

The decision remains highly controversial, generating much public discussion and receiving strong support and opposition from various groups. Senator Mitch McConnell commended the decision, arguing that it represented "an important step in the direction of restoring the First Amendment rights".[3] By contrast, former President Barack Obama stated that the decision "gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington".[4] The ruling represented a turning point on campaign finance, allowing unlimited election spending by corporations and labor unions, and setting the stage for Speechnow.org v. FEC, which authorized the creation of "Independent Expenditure Committees", more commonly known as Super PACs, and for later rulings by the Roberts Court, including McCutcheon v. FEC (2014), striking down other campaign finance restrictions. While the long-term legacy of this case remains to be seen, early studies by political scientists have concluded that Citizens United worked in favor of the electoral success of Republican candidates.[5][6][7]

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