Supreme Court Strikes Down Restrictions on Corporate Speech

by Theodore B. Olson, for The Harvard Law School Forum at Harvard Law School, January 26, 2010.

On January 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a groundbreaking decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that portions of the McCainFeingold campaign finance law banning corporate and union expenditures on political speech violate the First Amendment. The decision also calls into question similar restrictions on corporate speech in two dozen States.

The case arose out of Citizens United’s January 2008 release of Hillary: The Movie, a 90-minute critical documentary about then-Senator Hillary Clinton, who was a candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Citizens United sought to distribute the movie through Video On Demand, but was prohibited from doing so because federal law made it a felony for corporations–including nonprofit corporations–to use their general treasury funds for political advocacy. Citizens United filed suit challenging those restrictions. After Citizens United lost before a three-judge district court, the Supreme Court granted review and set the case for argument in March 2009. At its final sitting before its summer recess, the Court then took the highly unusual step of ordering re-argument of the case at a special September 2009 sitting…(continue reading)

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