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Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

United States Supreme Court
588 U.S. 310, 130 S.Ct. 876, 175 L.Ed.2d 753 (2010)



Citizens United (plaintiff) is a nonprofit corporation that primarily accepts funds from private donations, with a small portion of its funds coming from for-profit corporations. In January 2008, Citizens United produced a documentary film that was essentially a negative advertisement urging viewers to vote against then-Senator Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary election. Citizens United released the film in theaters and on DVD, and began running advertisements about the film’s future release on video-on-demand. The film and advertisements amounted to “express advocacy” by Citizens United, and thus raised concerns under § 441(b) of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA). Section 441(b) makes it a felony for all corporations–including nonprofit advocacy corporations–either to expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates or to broadcast electioneering communications within thirty days of a primary election or sixty days of a general election. Section 441(b) carves out an exception for Political Action Committees (PACs) in that it permits the political speech of these groups, even when the PACs are formed by corporations. Citizens United challenged the constitutionality of § 441(b) in federal district court against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) (defendant) on the ground that § 441(b) was an unconstitutional restriction of freedom of speech for corporations. The district court ruled for the FEC, and Citizens United appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Kennedy, J.)

Concurrence (Scalia, J.)

Dissent (Stevens, J.)

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