The Supreme Court has reversed itself on McCain-Feingold restrictions on campaign speech, leaving only contribution disclosure requirements. In the landmark decision today, Chief Justice John Roberts declares that “the text and purpose of the First Amendment point in the same direction: Congress may not prohibit political speech, even if the speaker is a corporation or union.”
Justices split on some findings, but a 5-4 majority found the Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act (BICRA) restrictions on organizational speech unconstitutional. Corporations and unions had been banned from participating in any advocacy that supported or opposed any federal candidate’s campaign. Constraints on organized citizen campaign efforts, which had banned public campaign speech during periods just prior to an election, were also eliminated.
The case was brought by Citizens United, producers of the slam documentary “Hillary: The Movie”, after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) demanded the names of their contributors. President Barack Obama condemned the ruling as giving a “green light to a new stampede of special interest money” in political campaigns. His appointee to the Court, Justice Sonya Sotomayor, joined in a dissenting opinion disagreeing with the majority.
Obama called on Congress to work on BICRA revisions that would counteract the court’s constitutional ruling. The BICRA authors, Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold, expressed disappointment with the decision and Senator Charles Schumer promised to introduce legislation to “minimize the impact” of the ruling.
Although the Citizen United plaintiffs had simply requested that the court allow them to maintain the secrecy of their contributor and membership list, a host of special interest groups and think tanks had submitted amicus briefs calling for a reversal of prior court decisions, particularly the 2003 decision in McConnell v. FEC, which upheld major provisions of the Reform Act.
Most opponents of BICRA restrictions are libertarian or conservative, but the American Civil Liberties Union supported the Citizens United complaint, while liberal groups had mixed sentiments about legal constraints on political speech.
The court ruling goes into effect immediately, allowing corporations and unions to advocate for or against candidates in the primary and general elections later this year. They will still be obliged to form a Political Action Committee (PAC) which reports their contributions to the FEC, provisions upheld in the Citizens United ruling. Individual states each have their own restrictions on campaign speech, which may be compromised by the Court’s decision to overturn another precedent established in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which had banned corporate contributions to state campaigns.
Image Credits: SupremeCamp
Supreme Court Photo (USSC/Mark Wilson)
Assorted signs (Flickr, AP)