Citizens United v. FEC: A Debate

On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce in a landmark decision. Penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the majority opinion in Citizens United v. FEC struck down several federal laws that prohibited independent political expenditures by unions and corporations (1). The decision did not overturn the ban on direct contributions from unions or corporations to candidates (2).

Money & Politics

Some praised the 5-4 ruling, while others say it was destructive, giving corporations and special interests even more power in Washington. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell applauded the ruling, while Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold, co-crafters of the 2002 Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act, denounced the court’s decision. “There’s going to be, over time, a backlash … when you see the amounts of union and corporate money that’s going to go into political campaigns.” While McCain was disappointed by the decision, he was not surprised. “Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice O’Connor, who had taken a different approach to this issue, both had significant political experience, while Justice Roberts, Scalia and Alito have none. (3)”

While several prominent Republicans opposed the court’s ruling, most libertarians and conservatives praised the decision. Heritage Foundation fellow Hans A. von Spakovsky, a former Republican member of the Federal Election Commission, said “The Supreme Court has restored a part of the First Amendment that had been unfortunately stolen by Congress and a previously wrongly-decided ruling of the court. (4)” Such was the reasoning of the high court. Kennedy wrote: “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. (5)”


Published in: on February 2, 2010 at 1:58 pm Comments Off on Citizens United v. FEC: A Debate
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