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Citizens United v. FEC

Supreme Court of the United States

March 24, 2009, Argued; September 9, 2009, Reargued; January 21, 2010, Decided

No. 08-205

Opinion

 [*318] Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.

Federal law prohibits corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures  [*319]  for speech  [****17] defined as an "electioneering communication" or for speech expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. 2 U.S.C. § 441b. Limits on electioneering communications were upheld in McConnell v. Federal Election Comm'n, 540 U.S. 93, 203-209, 124 S. Ct. 619, 157 L. Ed. 2d 491 (2003). The holding of McConnell rested to a large extent on an earlier case, Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652, 110 S. Ct. 1391, 108 L. Ed. 2d 652 [***769]  (1990). Austin had held that political speech may be banned based on the speaker's corporate identity.

In this case we are asked to reconsider Austin and, in effect, McConnell.  It has been noted that "Austin was a significant departure from ancient First Amendment principles," Federal Election Comm'n v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., 551 U.S. 449, 490, 127 S. Ct. 2652, 168 L. Ed. 2d 329 (2007) (WRTL) (Scalia, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). We agree with that conclusion and hold that stare decisis does not compel the continued acceptance of Austin.] The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether. We turn to the case now before us.

Citizens United is a nonprofit corporation. It brought this action in the United States District  [****18] Court for the District of [**887]  Columbia. A three-judge court later convened to hear the cause. The resulting judgment gives rise to this appeal.

Citizens United has an annual budget of about $12 million. Most of its funds are from donations by individuals; but, in addition, it accepts a small portion of its funds from for-profit corporations.

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558 U.S. 310 *; 130 S. Ct. 876 **; 175 L. Ed. 2d 753 ***; 2010 U.S. LEXIS 766 ****; 78 U.S.L.W. 4078; 159 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P10,166; 187 L.R.R.M. 2961; 22 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 73

CITIZENS UNITED, Appellant v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION

Prior History:  [****1] ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.

Citizens United v. FEC, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54767 (D.D.C., July 18, 2008)Citizens United v. FEC, 530 F. Supp. 2d 274, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2575 (D.D.C., 2008)

Disposition: Reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded.

CORE TERMS

expenditures, election, candidate, corruption, political speech, electioneering, regulation, funds, ban, the First Amendment, restrictions, FEC, contributions, media, shareholders, communications, as-applied, cases, press, advocacy, treasury, campaign, quid pro quo, quotation, rights, marks, campaign finance, invalidated, stare decisis, limits

Business & Corporate Law, Corporations, General Overview, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Judicial & Legislative Restraints, Freedom of Speech, Political Speech, Governments, Federal Government, Elections, Scope, Civil Procedure, US Supreme Court Review, Case or Controversy, Constitutionality of Legislation, Courts, Authority to Adjudicate, Public Employees, Free Press, Bill of Rights, Freedom to Petition, Judicial Precedent