Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Opinion
The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision in January, 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court established by a 5 to 4 majority:
- Corporations are permitted to spend unlimited money from their general treasury funds for political advertisements of any length, as long as they are not coordinated directly with a candidate.
- Corporations cannot directly fund candidates, political parties or Political Action Committees.
The following is quoted from the minority dissent to that decision.
Justice Stevens' Dissenting Opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
Cite as 558 U.S. (2010) (Dissenting) Opinion of Stevens, J. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES No. 08-205 (January 21, 2010) CITIZENS UNITED, APPELLANT V. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE GINSBURG, JUSTICE BREYER, and JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR join, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
The real issue in this case concerns how, not if, the appellant may finance its electioneering. Citizens United is a wealthy nonprofit corporation that runs a political action committee (PAC) with millions of dollars in assets. Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), it could have used those assets to televise and promote Hillary: The Movie wherever and whenever it wanted to. It also could have spent unrestricted sums to broadcast Hillary at any time other than the 30 days before the last primary election. Neither Citizens United's nor any other corporation's speech has been "banned," ante, at 1. All that the parties dispute is whether Citizens United had a right to use the funds in its general treasury to pay for broadcasts during the 30-day period. The notion that the First Amendment dictates an affirmative answer to that question is, in my judgment, profoundly misguided. Even more misguided is the notion that the Court must rewrite the law relating to campaign expenditures by for-profit corporations and unions to decide this case.
The basic premise underlying the Court's ruling is its iteration, and constant reiteration, of the proposition that the First Amendment bars regulatory distinctions based on a speaker's identity, including its "identity" as a corporation. While that glittering generality has rhetorical appeal, it is not a correct statement of the law. Nor does it tell us when a corporation may engage in electioneering that some of its shareholders oppose. It does not even resolve the specific question whether Citizens United maybe required to finance some of its messages with the money in its PAC. The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court's disposition of this case.
In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant.Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure,and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.
The majority's approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907, ch. 420, 34 Stat. 864. We have unanimously concluded that this "reflects a permissible assessment of the dangers posed by those entities to the electoral process," FEC v. National Right to Work Comm., 459 U. S. 197, 209 (1982) (NRWC), and have accepted the "legislative judgment that the special characteristics of the corporate structure require particularly careful regulation," id., at 209–210. The Court today rejects a century of history when it treats the distinction between corporate and individual campaign spending as an invidious novelty born of Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U. S. 652 (1990). Relying largely on individual dissenting opinions, the majority blazes through our precedents, overruling or disavowing a body of case law including FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., 551 U. S. 449 (2007) (WRTL), McConnell v. FEC, 540 U. S. 93 (2003), FEC v. Beaumont, 539 U. S. 146 (2003), FEC v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Inc., 479 U. S. 238 (1986) (MCFL), NRWC, 459 U. S. 197, and California Medical Assn. v. FEC, 453 U. S. 182 (1981).
In his landmark concurrence in Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U. S. 288, 346 (1936), Justice Brandeis stressed the importance of adhering to rules the Court has "developed . . . for its own governance" when deciding constitutional questions. Because departures from those rules always enhance the risk of error, I shall review the background of this case in some detail before explaining why the Court's analysis rests on a faulty understanding of Austin and McConnell and of our campaign finance jurisprudence more generally .1 I regret the length of what follows, but the importance and novelty of the Court's opinion require a full response. Although I concur in the Court's decision to sustain BCRA's disclosure provisions and join Part IVof its opinion, I emphatically dissent from its principal holding.
The Court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution. Before turning to the question whether to overrule Austin and part of McConnell, it is important to explain why the Court should not be deciding that question.