Citizens United v. FEC

558 U.S. 310, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010)



Political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it, whether by design or inadvertence. Laws that burden political speech are subject to strict scrutiny, which requires the Government to prove that the restriction furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. 


Appellant nonprofit corporation released a documentary film about a presidential candidate. The corporation wanted to make the film available through video-on-demand within 30 days of the primary elections, and it produced advertisements to promote the film. Appeallant sued appellee, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), challenging the constitutionality of a ban on corporate independent expenditures for electioneering communications under 2 U.S.C.S. § 441b, and disclaimer and disclosure requirements under 2 U.S.C.S. §§ 434 and 441d. The district court granted summary judgment for appellee. The corporation appealed. The district court's judgment was reversed as to the constitutionality of the § 441b restrictions on corporate independent expenditures. The judgment was affirmed as to the disclaimer and disclosure requirements, and the matter was remanded. 


Was the statute generally prohibiting corporations and labor unions from campaign advertisements in 30 days before primary election or 60 days before general election unconstitutional?




The Supreme Court held that the ban on corporate-funded independent expenditures under § 441b could not be found inapplicable to the film, which was an electioneering communication that was equivalent to express advocacy. It was therefore necessary to determine whether § 441b was facially valid. The ban imposed under § 441b on corporate independent expenditures violated the First Amendment because the Government could not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker's identity as a nonprofit or for-profit corporation. Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990), which permitted such restrictions, and the portion of McConnell v. Federal Election Comm'n, 540 U.S. 93 (2003), that upheld § 414b were overruled. However, the disclaimer and disclosure provisions under §§ 434 and441d were constitutional as applied to the film and the ads, given the Government's interest in providing information to the electorate.

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