Bench Memos

Another Important Case

The significance of the Court’s decision to schedule re-argument in Citizens United v. FEC should not be overlooked in the excitement over the Ricci opinion. As described in a press release for the Institute for Justice:

The U.S. Supreme Court today ordered a new round of oral arguments in Citizens United v. FEC, the “Hillary: The Movie” case.  The Court wants parties to address whether Austin v. Michigan, a case that bans certain political speech by corporations, including nonprofit corporations such as Citizens United, should be overturned.  The Court also wants to consider whether part of McConnell v. FEC, upholding the so-called “electioneering communications” ban in McCain-Feingold, should likewise be overturned and the ban struck down entirely.

“The Court has set up a blockbuster case about Americans’ First Amendment rights to join together and speak freely about politics,” said Steve Simpson, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Citizens United v. FEC.  “A majority of the High Court appears to recognize the grave threat to free speech posed by both the electioneering communications ban in McCain-Feingold and the ban on corporate political speech.  This case could mark a significant advance for First Amendment rights and will have major implications for state laws nationwide.” . . .


The Citizens United case came about because the Federal Election Commission banned the airing of “Hillary: The Movie,” produced by the nonprofit Citizens United, on cable TV and required the group to “name names” of the film’s backers by disclosing to the government detailed personal information about donors if the group ran TV ads for the film.  At oral argument, justices appeared concerned that if the government could ban corporate-funded films about candidates, it could also ban books.  Revisiting Austin and McConnell allows the Court to fully consider whether speech regulation has gone too far.