Many people over the last 6 years have called for one of the most controversial and misunderstood Supreme Court decisions to be overturned. The latest call came, not surprisingly from Hillary Clinton. I’m talking, of course, about Hillary’s pledge, if elected, to “introduce a constitutional amendment within the first 30 days of her presidency to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.”
Some opponents of the decision believe the Supreme Court granted rights to corporations and want the Constitution “to declare that the expenditures of corporate money is not a form of constitutionally protected speech.” And Huffington Post reports the decision “paved the way for unlimited corporate, union and individual spending on elections.”
But is that really what happened? And, why did the court hear the case in the first place?
The Supreme Court decision itself includes the backstory: in January 2008 “Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation, released a documentary (hereinafter Hillary) critical of then-Senator Hillary Clinton, a candidate for her party’s Presidential nomination. Anticipating that it would make Hillary available on cable television through video-on-demand within 30 days of primary elections, Citizens United produced television ads to run on broadcast and cable television.” Concerned about possible civil and criminal penalties for violating Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), Citizens United sought declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that the BCRA is unconstitutional as applied to Hillary; and “BCRA’s disclaimer, disclosure, and reporting requirements… were unconstitutional as applied to Hillary and the ads.”
The Supreme Court held that “Hillary is not an ‘electioneering communication’” and that section 441b of the BCRA was “unconstitutional as applied to speech that was not ‘express advocacy or its functional equivalent.’” Adding, “The Court returns to the principle established in Buckley and Bellotti that the Government may not suppress political speech based on the speaker’s corporate identity. No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations.”
The Court in their decision stated, “this case cannot be resolved on a narrower ground without chilling political speech, speech that is central to the First Amendment’s meaning and purpose.” The ruling did not repeal limits on direct expenditures by individuals, corporations or unions to candidates, committees or political parties. Because political speech is central to the meaning and purpose of free speech, the remaining limits or prohibitions on direct political expenditures should be repealed, while Citizens United is upheld. Any more limits on political expenditures will only further serve the political establishment at the expense of the grassroots and political candidates who are not part of the two major parties who make the laws that serve to protect themselves.