April 16, 2014
The Judicial Branch is a branch of the government that is separate and independent, but also has checks and balances to make sure other branches as well as their own are staying in line. Within this branch there is the Supreme Court consisting of nine members, one Chief Justice and eight associate justices, whose power is judgment. All judges are appointed for life and have original and appellate jurisdiction, but majority of the cases they try are appellate-meaning that the case started in a different court. The Judicial Branch also has the power of judicial review, which is the ability to declare an action unconstitutional. Most of what the Supreme Court does though is set precedent meaning that their decision stands as a rule. In the Citizens United v. FEC case, a couple precedents were being questioned and eventually were overturned. The issue of this case was whether or not outside organizations could spend an unlimited amount of money on political races and it turned into a case on free speech.
Citizens United is a conservative non-profit organization that made a movie about Hillary Clinton in January of 2008 that included opinions shown in the film about whether or not the senator would be fit for presidency. The Federal Election Committee (FEC) was calling Hillary: The Movie into question because the film violated sections of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). “Citizens United sought an injunction against the FEC to prevent the application of the BCRA to their movie” (1). This group argued that section 203 of the BCRA violated the first amendment when it was applied to the movie and other forms of advertisements. They also argued that Sections 201 and 203 were unconstitutional in this situation.
The Federal Election Committee deemed the movie an electioneering communication and was therefore subject to the rules governing the production of political ads, including limitations on who may fund them (2). An electioneering communication is defined as any broadcast, cable, or satellite communication that a) refers to a clearly identified candidate for federal office, b) is made within 30 days of primary election or 60 days of a general election and c) is publically distributed (5). A problem arose with section 203 of the BCRA because it doesn’t allow corporations or unions to spend their general treasury funds on electioneering communications, which is what Citizens United was trying to do. Citizens United was also calling into question the constitutionality of section 441b’s prohibition on corporate independent election expenditures as well as the disclaimer and disclosure requirements that stated “Sections 201 and 311 require the disclosure of donors to such communication and a disclaimer when the communication is not authorized by the candidate it intends to support” (1). In a five to four ruling, the United States Supreme Court said that there was no government interest for prohibiting corporations or unions from using general treasury funds to make election related expenditures (5). Basically this ruling made it possible for corporations and unions to spend as much money as they wanted to support or defeat a candidate. In addition, the court ruled that the disclaimer and disclosure requirements were constitutional. The precedents that the Citizens United case overturned were part of the Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and McConnell v. FEC cases. The court overruled Austin, which held that political speech may be banned based on the speaker's corporate identity, in striking down section 441b’s ban on corporate independent expenditures (5). It also struck down the part of McConnell that held BCRA section 203 extensions of section 441b’s restrictions on corporate independent expenditures (5). In the end the court decided, “Government may not suppress political speech on the basis of a speakers corporate identity. No