Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)

IRAC Summary: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)

Issue: Whether the provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) that restrict corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause.

Rule: The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits Congress from making laws that abridge freedom of speech. Prior Supreme Court decisions have recognized corporate political speech as being protected under the First Amendment, but have also upheld certain campaign finance regulations.

Application: Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation, sought to broadcast a political documentary critical of a presidential candidate which would have been in violation of the BCRA’s “electioneering communication” provisions. The Supreme Court analyzed the BCRA’s restrictions, considering the principles of freedom of speech and the government’s interest in preventing corruption in elections.

Conclusion: The Supreme Court held that the BCRA’s restrictions on corporate independent expenditures are unconstitutional, overruling Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and partially overruling McConnell v. Federal Election Commission. The Court held that the Government may not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker’s corporate identity, and that no sufficient governmental interest justified such an infringement.

Detailed IRAC Outline:

I. Issue
A. The primary legal issue is whether Section 203 of the BCRA, which prohibits corporations (including nonprofit corporations) and unions from making “electioneering communications,” infringes upon the constitutional right to free speech as protected by the First Amendment.

II. Rule
A. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right to free speech from government interference.
B. Precedent cases relevant to the regulation of political speech by corporations:
1. Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990): Upheld restrictions on corporate political expenditures, recognizing a state interest in combating “corporate wealth” undue influence.
2. McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003): Upheld the provisions of the BCRA, including the prohibition of corporate and union-funded electioneering communications.
3. Buckley v. Valeo (1976): Distinguished between limits on expenditures and contributions, holding that expenditure limits impinge upon the freedom of expression.

III. Application
A. The Court re-examined the rationale and constitutional underpinnings of the restrictions on corporate political speech.
B. Analysis of “electioneering communications” as defined by the BCRA and its impact on Citizens United’s ability to broadcast their film.
C. Evaluation of the governmental interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption in elections.
D. Consideration of whether the prohibition on corporate independent expenditures is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest.
E. The Court’s analysis led to the questioning of the legitimacy of the Austin decision and its alignment with the First Amendment.
F. Examination of the chilling effect that the BCRA’s disclosure requirements and prohibition may have on political speech and association.

IV. Conclusion
A. The Court concluded that the BCRA’s ban on corporate independent expenditures is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech, as corporations, like individuals, have a right to political speech.
B. The Court overruled Austin and parts of McConnell, holding that the government has no place in deciding whether certain political speech is valuable or not, and that the anti-distortion rationale of Austin is not a valid reason to restrict political speech.
C. The Court also upheld disclosure requirements for political advertising sponsors and disclaimer requirements of the BCRA as constitutional.
D. The decision resulted in the allowance of unlimited independent expenditures by corporations and unions on political campaigns, fundamentally changing campaign finance regulation in the United States.

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