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Few Supreme Court cases in recent history have garnered as much attention—or generated as much controversy—as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010).
At the center of the case was the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Section 441(b) of that law barred corporations from publicly campaigning for or against any candidate prior to an election.
Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation, sought a preliminary injunction against the Federal Election Commission to stop it from enforcing the prohibition. Citizens United had created a documentary attacking Hillary Clinton in the lead up to the 2008 election. Citizens United argued that any enforcement action against it would constitute an unconstitutional restriction on corporations’ political speech, which violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately took up the case and overturned the law, concluding that corporations have a right to political speech. Further, the Court held that governmental restrictions on independent political expenditures based solely on the speaker’s corporate status were invalid.
The decision was split, as was the public’s reaction to the ruling. Many hail the decision as a victory for freedom of speech, while others argue that the outcome threatened democracy by giving wealthy corporations too much power in the political process.