What has been the effect of the citizen united supreme court decision ?

Posted: September 3rd, 2013

Causal Argument






Causal Argument

There has been a lot of criticism in the case of Citizen’s united vs. The Federal Electoral commission. The case was heard before the United States Supreme Court and held that the first amendment barred the government from interfering with the corporations and unions by making political expenditures. The problematic phenomenon is whether corporations and unions reserve the right to make political expenditures and whether they reserve the right to hold political opinions. It is evident that the case presented was a measure to bar the corporation and other unions in participating to air their views. Hillary: the Movie brought about this arguments and proceedings as it was an idea that was composed, budgeted and paid for by the Citizens United, which is a non-profit making organization. The corporation wanted to reserve the advertising rights by doing so during television broadcasts; however, such advertisements would in clear contravention of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which limits political financing especially during campaigns. The Supreme Court ruled that portions of the Bipartisan Campaign Act violated the First amendment. The courts that ruled over the case were utterly divided on whether the corporations should have independent political expenditures. The court set a precedent for similar future rulings that might be affected to allow corporations to have independent voices and more so opinions as the expenditures of unions and corporations will be a clear reflection of the favored candidates in political elections (Cardin et al 2010).

The courts decision was arrived at after the case was referred to the Supreme Court on an appeal basis from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The Section 203 of the Bipartisan Act defines electioneering communication as either broadcast, cable or satellite communication that mentioned a candidate in the span of 60 days within a general election or 30 days within a primary election (Public Citizen, 2011). The acts also explicitly prohibited the participation of corporations and unions in funding that in any way favored political candidates in an election. The district court had held that the citizens united had contravened those acts for trying to have the movie Hillary that featured Hillary Clinton who was a candidate for the Democratic Party. However, the Supreme Court struck down the sections of the Bipartisan Act as they violated the first amendment act ad ruled in favor of the Citizens United.

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) was a modification of the Federal Election Campaign Act which prohibited corporations and unions as well from the use of their resources to fund electioneering communication which mentioned candidates participating in elections within stated time span of 60 days for general elections and 30 days for primary elections. The Citizens United had earlier presented a case before the courts seeking to have legal actions taken against the makers of the film Fahrenheit 9/11 on claims that the movie constituted political motives and messages. In addition, they claimed it was released prior to upcoming elections as it had been funded by Michael Moore and other corporations in favor of other unidentified presidential candidates as it criticized the then president bush for his stance on the terrorist attacks in September 11 2001 on New York’s twin towers (Public Citizen, 2011). However, such allegations were dismissed by the federal electoral commission on grounds that Michael Moore other makers and financiers of the movie had acted in their own liberties for establishing commercial interests when they made the movie with the utter view of making profit.

Citizen United later entered the movie making business and in the height of the 2008 elections, the citizen united released a movie by the name Hillary: the movie, which was critical of Hillary Clinton. The United states District Court for the District of Columbia, which had full jurisdiction over the case ruled that the movie criticized an election contender for the primaries in a time span of 30 days to the primaries.

Critics were of the view that government had the power and right to ban books and other material in writing that had been funded by unions and corporations in utter advocacy for specific candidates in electoral processes. They gave examples in the case of Austin vs. Michigan Chamber of Commerce where the government had banned writings. The federal electoral commission argued that using the precedent set by the Austin vs. Michigan chamber of commerce the government could ban related media that had been financed and brought forth by corporations and unions in advocacy or criticism of specific political candidates. The Supreme Court however intervened in the case on June 29 2009 to have the best platform to decide on the case. Different opinions flared in the proceedings of the case; however, it was evident that there were two opposing sides.

Majority of people favored the decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court by Justice Kennedy “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.” (Karls-Ruplinger & Wisconsin, 2010). This is a clear indication that the previous decisions ruled by the district court infringed on the rights of the Citizens United and its followers. I find that the case presented against the Citizen United an utter violation of the first amendment  This provides that every person or institution should exercise his or her basic right of opinion. However, this was restricted by the BCRA whereby a corporation and unions are not allowed to exercise their right to issue opinions on certain matters. The Bipartisan Act put it in a way that it was impossible for corporations and unions as well to refrain from exercising freedom of expression, which is a fundamental right, provided in the first amendment (Cardin et al 2010).

The United States Supreme Court was express in stating that the prohibition of unions or corporations from engaging in political acts such as funding and voicing their opinions was an act of violating the freedoms of people because such institutions cannot act independently of people as they solely rely on actions of people to act. Hence, it was express that the acts of the Citizen United were not act by the organization only but an act of the people in the organization. It would be false to state that the actions of the Citizen united were not the opinions of the citizen-united owners. The suppression of the movie by the courts would have been a clear violation of basic freedom of expression as in comparison to what was ruled previously whereby the courts ruled in favor if the makers of Fahrenheit 9/11 by stating that the makers and financiers of the movie were in the sole business of making movies. Hence, a commercial act had a political inclination as it depicted President Bush in a bad light. This is an identical case in that both entities had entered the business of making movies prior to the onset of the elections and its primaries. The Citizen United had entered in the movie making market in the year 2003 leading up to the 2008 but was claimed to have breached the Bipartisan Act.

This was a clear misjudgment of facts and an utter exercise of bias after the district magistrate court ruled in favor of the Federal Electoral Commission yet it had favored the Fahrenheit 9/11 and its makers in identical circumstances. The Federal Electoral Commission if found in identical circumstance would refute this claims by stating that there was a clear violation of the bipartisan Acts which provide that a union or corporate from funding a political movement or politically affiliated ideas (Public Citizen, 2011).

The First amendment expressly provides that the rights of an individual should be preserved and not overridden by any act or law whatsoever. A corporation in law is also regarded in some aspect as a person with basic rights. Thus, the right to opinions is basic for very person. In addition the economic laws were not violated and hence it can be established that the Citizens United acted in pursuant to the laws provided for corporations that enable any corporation to seek commercial interest via broadcast even if it entails of usurping emotions among the public and more so with reference to the case, the electorate. In addition, the argument based on the First Amendment was that it provides all with protection from oppression of their rights to speech.

The first amendment is explicit in protecting all regardless of their identity. Hence, it does not regard the identity as to whether they are individuals or corporation and unions as well. It is a fundamental and basic right that cannot be overridden by any court ruling or law. Hence, it would be sufficient to state that the Citizens United was free from any wrongdoing because it had exercised its fundamental and basic right of free speech as provided in the First Amendment. The curb on where a corporate should spending is utter breach of speech related freedom

In comparison to claims of violating the Bipartisan Act by Citizen United, it did not intend to evoke public debate or opinion on Hillary Clinton’s candidature. Moreover it was a pure business decision to venture into the movie making business as so evidenced by its presence in that market for previous years (Cardin et al 2010). Hence, as the courts had set a precedent it was fair that they received fair hearing and judgment in line with the constitution that provides for equal freedom of speech and expression without bias whatsoever.

The case also paved way for the involvement of corporation and unions in the involvement of funding and expression of views relating to the contenders in elections for political offices. There was a significant effect from the ruling because numerous states altered their electoral laws prohibiting funding and opinions by the unions and cooperates (Public Citizen, 2011).


Cardin, B., Roberts, P., & Congressional Digest Corporation. (2010). Campaign finance and free speech: Response to the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision — should the Congress pass the DISCLOSE Act? Bethesda, MD: Congressional Digest Corporation.

Karls-Ruplinger, J., & Wisconsin. (2010). U.S. Supreme Court case on campaign finance: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Madison, Wis: Wisconsin Legislative Council.

Public Citizen, inc. (2011). 12 months after: The effects of Citizens United on elections and the integrity of the legislative process. Washington, D.C: Public Citizen.

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