By: Marshall Kesterson
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a 2010 Supreme Court Case in which Citizens United sought an injunction against the FEC in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) from applying to its film titled Hillary: The Movie.
The movie served as an attack on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s bid for the Presidency. The BCRA puts restrictions on “electioneering communications”. More specifically, section 203 of the BCRA prevents corporations of labor unions from funding election communications using their general treasuries, and sections 201 and 311 require disclosure of donors and a disclaimer when the communication hasn’t been authorized by the candidate it supports.
These sections were challenged by Citizens United, and they argued that section 203 violates the First Amendment when applied to their movie and that sections 201 and 203 were unconstitutional when applied to the circumstances.
The United States District Court denied the injunction, citing Supreme Court decision McConnell v. FEC which had already reached a determination. They said that Citizen United’s movie was the functional equivalent of expressing advocacy for a political campaign and was therefore subject to the BCRA. The decision was appealed and sent to SCOTUS.
SCOTUS’ final ruling reversed the United States District Court’s decision in a 5-4 vote on January 21, 2010. The opinion was written by Justice Kennedy with Justice Stevens dissenting along with Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, and Sotomayor.
The decision was widely protested:
Then-President Barack Obama quickly criticized the decision during his 2010 State of the Union address.
“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said. He continued with his address and urged Democrats and Republicans in Congress to pass a bill that would correct the law.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito shook his head and mouthed “not true” after President Obama’s remarks; the action was unprecedented from a Supreme Court justice, who are supposed to remain impartial during the State of the Union.
This incident recently came back into the spotlight following Supreme Court Justice John Roberts criticizing President Donald Trump over Trump’s description of a judge who ruled against his migrant asylum policy as an “Obama judge”.
President Trump took to Twitter to fire back at Justice Robert’s comments:
Some protests over the decision have happened as recently as 2015 when activists arrived at the Supreme Court on the anniversary of the landmark decision.