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How did the Citizens United case happen?

Citizens United is the extreme result of a focused political effort in the past two or three decades to transform the First Amendment into a tool for corporations to avoid regulation and oversight by the American people. Before 1976, there was no such thing as protected “commercial speech” under the First Amendment. For the first two centuries of the American republic, corporations did not have First Amendment rights to limit the reach of democratically enacted regulations. And states and Congress could regulate or prevent corporate contributions and expenditures in elections.

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Does the Constitution require the result in Citizens United?

No. Citizens United v. FEC would never have been decided this way in any other era of the Court in our history. The five self-described conservatives on the current Court have cast aside a century of federal restrictions on corporate money in politics, and two centuries of First Amendment jurisprudence. The notion that a corporation has First Amendment rights to “speech” and political activity is contrary to the history, words, spirit and intent of the First Amendment and American self-government.

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See Bellotti v. First National Bank of Boston, 435 U.S. 765 (1978) (invalidating Massachusetts restriction on corporate expenditures to influence voter referenda not related to corporate purpose); FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., 551 U.S. 449 (2007) (as applied to issue advocacy advertisements of non-profit corporation, federal corporate expenditure restriction held to violate First Amendment); Thompson v. Western States Med. Ctr., 535 U.S. 357 (2002) (federal restriction on advertising of compounded drugs invalidated); Lorillard v. Reilly, 533 U.S. More »

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What did the Court decide in Citizens United?

A sharply divided Supreme Court decided that the American people are powerless to stop corporations from using corporate funds to influence state and federal elections. The 5-4 decision ruled that the restrictions on corporate expenditures in elections contained in the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (known as BCRA or “McCain-Feingold”) violated the First Amendment protections of free speech.

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