Supreme Court hears campaign finance case News
Supreme Court hears campaign finance case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] Tuesday in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [oral arguments transcript, PDF], in which the Court will consider whether federal election law prohibits a corporation from funding a documentary on a candidate in advance of a federal election. Petitioner Citizens United [advocacy website] is a non-profit conservative advocacy corporation that produced a 90-minute documentary, "Hillary: The Movie," questioning then-Senator Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) qualifications to serve as US president. Citizens United sought an order declaring that ads for the movie, scheduled to air during the Democratic presidential primary, were not "electioneering communications" within the meaning of Section 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) [text, PDF]. The US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] initially refused to issue the order, and later determined [opinions, PDF] in a judgment on the merits that the ads were covered by Section 203, allowing the Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website] to regulate and subject them to disclosure requirements. Appealing the decision, Citizens United challenged the application of BCRA on broad First Amendment grounds:

The government cannot prove and has not attempted to prove that a 90-minute documentary made available to people who choose affirmatively to receive it, to opt in, by an ideologically oriented small corporation poses any threat of quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. Indeed, this documentary is the very definition of robust, uninhibited debate about a subject of intense political interest that the First Amendment is there to guarantee.

The government argued the Court's decisions in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission and Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life [opinions, PDF] allowed them to regulate the video because it was funded by a corporation and could not reasonably be interpreted as anything other than an appeal to vote against Clinton.