January 21, 2010

First Amendment victory

By First Amendment victory

Author:  Damien M. Schiff

Today the Supreme Court handed down a landmark victory for free speech protections.  In Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, the Court (in an opinion authored by Justice Kennedy and joined by the Chief Justice, with Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito) overruled two decisions—Austin and McConnell—that had upheld significant speech limitations on all types of corporations.  The Court today ruled that bans on corporate expenditures in political campaigns, as well as "blackout" periods for corporate speech preceding elections, violate the First Amendment's political speech protections.

Writing for the Court, Justice Kennedy explained that none of the justifications offered by the government for these speech limitations—avoiding "distortion" in the martketplace of ideas, preventing corruption, and protecting shareholders—could support the challenged speech limitations.  Moreover, the Court emphasized that corporate speech is not an ugly duckling, and that it ought to, and does, enjoy the full protections of the First Amendment.  In this respect in particular, the Court's opinion today is consistent with the points made in Pacific Legal Foundation's amicus curiae brief in support of Citizens United.  There, PLF argued:

Corporations are not an alien force requiring a barrier to protect the political process from its influence.  The open political process of a democratic society is the clash of all sorts of different viewpoints, many driven by economic interests and many driven by noneconomic interests.  To allow entrenched politicians to pick and choose which among the disparate interests will be hobbled is antidemocratic.

Today's victory for the First Amendment vindicates these points, and will be certain to reinvigorate the core political speech protections of our democracy.

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