Citation. 588 U.S. 310, 130 S.Ct. 876, 175 L.Ed.2d 753 (2010).
The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BRCA) prohibits corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make direct contributions to candidates or independent expenditures for “electioneering communication,” or speech expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. Citizens United, which released a documentary film critical of Senator Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate, challenged the constitutionality of this provision of the BRCA.
The free speech clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for political communications by corporations, unions, and other associations.
In January 2008, Citizens United released a film called “Hillary: The Movie,” a documentary arguing that Senator Hillary Clinton was an unsuitable candidate for President. Citizens United released this documentary in theaters and on DVD, but wished to also make the film through video-on-demand on cable and to promote the film with ads on broadcast and cable television.
The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) prohibits corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make direct contributions to candidates or independent expenditures for “electioneering communication,” or speech expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. Citizens United challenged the constitutionality of this provision of the BCRA.
Is the challenged provision of BCRA unconstitutional per the First Amendment‘s freedom of speech guarantee?
Yes, the challenged provision of the BCRA is unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment‘s free speech guarantee.
The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation, given that it greatly increases the power and influence of corporations in determining the winner of elections. The prohibitions at issue should be upheld, especially because corporations have many other avenues for political speech. Moreover, it is well settled that speech may be regulated differentially on account of the speaker’s identity. The government routinely places special restrictions on the speech rights of students, prisoners, foreigners, and its own employees.
The BCRA restricts political speech, which is the type of speech that should be most protected by the First Amendment. There is no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.
The provision at issue is a content-based restriction on political speech and as such, the restriction must be evaluated under strict scrutiny. The government argued that the ban serves a compelling interest in fighting corruption; however, the anticorruption interest is not sufficient to displace the political speech at issue.