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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Supreme Court eases corporate restrictions on political campaign spending
Jaclyn Belczyk at 10:01 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Thursday decided [opinion, PDF] 5-4 in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [Cornell LII backgrounder] to ease restrictions on political campaign spending by corporations. The Court was asked to consider Section 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) [text, PDF], which prohibits corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech defined as an "electioneering communication" or for speech expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website] argued that Section 203 allowed them to regulate the release of and advertising for a 90-minute documentary questioning then-senator Hillary Clinton's qualifications to serve as US president. Petitioner Citizens United [advocacy website], a non-profit conservative advocacy corporation that produced the film, appealed on broad First Amendment grounds a decision [opinion, PDF] by the US District Court for the District of Columbia, which held that the movie was "electioneering communication" within the meaning of BCRA. In its ruling Thursday, the Court overturned its 1989 decision in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld the facial validity of Section 203, and partially overturned McConnell v. Federal Election Commission [Oyez backgrounders], to the extent that it relied on Austin. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority:


In this case we are asked to reconsider Austin and, in effect, McConnell. It has been noted that "Austin was a significant departure from ancient First Amendment principles." We agree with that conclusion and hold that stare decisis does not compel the continued acceptance of Austin. The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.

Joining in the majority opinion were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. Justice Clarence Thomas joined as to all but Part IV, which upheld disclaimer and disclosure requirements. Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor joined the majority as to Part IV only. Roberts filed a concurring opinion, joined by Alito. Scalia filed a concurring opinion, joined by Alito and joined in part by Thomas. Stevens filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

The Court heard arguments [JURIST report] in the case in September during a special sitting. The Court originally heard oral arguments in March, but ordered a rehearing [JURIST reports] at the end of the 2008 term to determine whether Austin and McConnell should be overturned.

2:00 PM ET - The White House has sharply criticized [press release] the Court's decision, pledging to work with Congress "to develop a forceful response."





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