Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010)

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  • Citizens United, a non-profit organisation, wanted to air a film called “Hillary: The Movie” which was critical of Hillary Clinton and broadcast the film during television broadcasts.  This would have violated the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (“BCRA“).
  • Section 203 of BCRA defined an “electioneering communication” as a broadcast, cable, or satellite communication that mentioned a candidate within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary, and prohibited this kind of expenditures by corporations and unions.
  • The Federal Electoral Commission ruled that this would violate BCRA.
  • Citizens United filed a complaint with the US District Court for Columbia but were unsuccessful.  Citizens United appealed to the US Supreme Court on the grounds that the prohibitions of corporate and union funding was unconstitutional and impeded on First Amendment rights.


  • Was BCRA unconstitutional?


  • Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion found that the section 203 BCRA prohibition of all independent expenditures by corporations and unions violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.
  • The majority opinion wrote that “[i]f the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”
  • The First Amendment does not distinguish between media and other corporations, the BCRA restrictions improperly allowed Congress to suppress political speech in newspapers, books, television, and blogs.
  • The Court’s ruling effectively freed corporations and unions to spend money both on “electioneering communications” and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates (although not to contribute directly to candidates or political parties).

Full Text

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