The decision of the Supreme Court on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission shows that the First Amendment to the Constitution can give rise to various interpretations and legal debates. Moreover, this case can have profound implications for political campaign in the country. This paper is aimed at analyzing the reasons behind this ruling of the court. Moreover, it is necessary to examine both concurring and dissenting opinions in order to determine the extent to which this verdict can be justified.
First, according to the majority opinion, corporations, unions, or non-profit from organizations should be allowed to broadcast electioneering communications even before general or primary elections (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 2010, unpaged). Moreover, this decision of the Supreme Court overruled some provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). This legislative act set limits on the corporate spending on political campaigning.
This provision of the BCRA was declared to be unconstitutional because it violated people’s right to free speech and expression (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 2010, unpaged). The decision is premised on the idea that the Constitution and especially the First Amendment give equal protection to individual citizens and to groups of citizens who can form unions, lobbies, or corporations. This argument was supported by Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Robert, and Thomas.
In turn, according to the dissenting opinion, this ruling can give corporations too much political power, and create loopholes for corruption of political leaders. The thing is that corporate entities have more opportunities to collect larger sums of money. Therefore, they can outspend many of their political opponents. Those judges, who dissented, for example, Stevens, Breyer, or Ginsburg, argued that unlimited corporate participation in political campaign can eventually stifle the voices of other people.
There are various approaches that can be used to analyze this case. In particular, one can focus on the approach taken by Justice Antonin Scalia. His views are premised on the idea that the First Amendment emphasizes the protection of free speech, but it does not distinguish between types of speakers (Scalia, unpaged).
In other words, this legal document does not tell that corporations should not be granted the right to free speech. There is no specification or a footnote mentioning that any associations of people should be denied the right to free speech.
In part, his interpretation of the First Amendment can be called a black-letter approach. This means that a legislator should focus on the text of a legal document, rather than its supposed or alleged meanings. Provided that there is no explicit prohibition on corporate political activism, there is no reason to limit their expenditures on political campaigns.
This argument can be accepted, however, one should take into account that laws are constantly elaborated, specified, or even abolished. Therefore, a black-letter approach can actually disregard the spirit of the law.
Secondly, the concurring opinion of Justice Scalia relies on the idea that corporations represent people’s interests, and goals. They are not some separate entities that are created ex nihilo.
They are formed by individual people, and they are run by people. More importantly, they represent the interests of shareholders and employees. Hence, such associations of people have the same right to free speech. Moreover, according to Justice Scalia, the prohibition of corporate political speech can “muzzle the principal agents of the modern free economy” (Scalia, unpaged).
In other words, these organizations act as the main drivers of modern economy, and they should have a right to express their agreement or disagreement with the policies of the state; otherwise they are not likely to succeed. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that in many cases, corporate executives failed to meet their commitments to stakeholders. In fact, many corporate scandals indicate that very often, stakeholders cannot influence the decisions of corporate leaders. This is the main limitation of Scalia’s interpretation.
In part, this line of reasoning has been challenged has been Joel Seligman. In this opinion of this legal professional, it might be very dangerous to equate the rights of individual citizens with the rights of corporations.
In Seligman’s view, this decision can create the basis for further political liberation of corporations; in particular, one can speak about their ability to make “direct corporate contributions to candidates” (Seligman, unpaged). Currently, they are prohibited from doing it, if this prohibition is lifted, the political power of corporations can become virtually unchallenged, especially given their financial power.
Overall, the decision of the Supreme Court can be supported because corporations have to comply with a variety of laws and regulations, but at the same time they must be allowed to express their political opinion. These associations of people can be criticized for a variety of reasons, but they will continue to remain the main drivers of the U.S. economy.
Therefore, they should have a right to political speech. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that there are cases when corporations failed to act in the best interest of their stakeholders. Moreover, in many cases, corporate executives acted against these interests. This is the risk that legislators should not overlook.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. No. 08-205. Supreme Court of the U.S., 21 Jan, 2010. Web. 6 Apr. 2008.
Scalia, Antonin. “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission”. Supreme Court of the U.S. 2010. Web. 6 Apr. 2008.
Seligman, Joel. “Is The Corporation The Person? Reflections on Citizens United v.
Federal Election Commission.”. New York: The University of Rochester, 2010. Web. 6 Apr. 2008.