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Marley Majette

Pd. 4 AP NSL
January 8, 2016

Citizens United v. F.E.C, 2010 DBQ


During President Obamas state of the union address he openly challenged a Supreme Court ruling
in front of Congress and members of the Supreme Court. With the American peoples growing concerns
about the influence of corporations and other special interests in our political system and the president's
commentary on the ruling, Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010), opened the floor for a new debate. The
question that is being debated is; to what extent does the First Amendment protect the variety of ways
Americans associate with one another and the way we participate in American political life? In the
Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo 1976, portions of the 1974 FECA were waived because the courts
ruled that restricting the independent spending by individuals and groups to support or defeat a candidate
interfered with speech protected by the First Amendment as the longs were independent of the candidate.
Fast forward to 2010 and in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v F.E.C. that: 1)
the BCRA electioneering communications provisions did indeed apply to Hillary and that 2) the laws
ban on corporate and union independent expenditures was unconstitutional under the First Amendment's
speech clause. The question now becomes 1) does political speech equate to the freedom of speech under
the first amendment? 2) does the freedom assembly apply to corporations? and 3)does this ruling violate
any of the principles of Republican government that the founders set in stone in the constitution? The
Supreme Court ruled correctly in the Supreme Court case Citizens United vs FEC on the basis of the first
amendment rights of freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and the principles of Republican
government.
This ruling should stand as it is because of the fundamental first amendment right to freedom of speech.
A citizen's freedom of speech is granted to them at birth and it is something that can not be taken away
unless mitigating factors are put into place. In the beginning speech was open understanding, and crucial
to the true definition of a society. There were no limits on speech and there was the set constitutional
definition of what it meant. In Citizens United v F.E.C., 2010, it states By suppressing the speech of
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Marley Majette
Pd. 4 AP NSL
January 8, 2016

manifold corporations, both for-profit and nonprofit, the Government prevents their voices and viewpoints
from reaching the public and advising voters (Document I). The government and the people who feel as
though special interests and big business are sliding their way into politics would say that by suppressing
the factions and special interests voices we can control how they negatively affect the election. However
factions should be controlled by allowing them all to speak and entrusting the people to determine what is
true and what is false. The act of suppressing a group's voices is controlling where the public may get their
information and what source that person may get their information from. This act is a form of censorship
because the public is granted the freedom to think for themselves. The courts also state, The First
amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate
identity of the speaker and the content of political speech (Document I). Congress does not get to make
distinctions based upon the type of political speech and who it is coming from. It is not designated in their
enumerated powers and it does establish any distinctions in the First Amendment. Therefore those who
disagree with the ruling, are in fact supporting congress infringing on citizens right to free speech. In the
ruling Buckley v. Valeo, 1976 the Supreme Court states, restriction on the amount of money a person or
group can spend on political communication during a campaign necessarily reduces the quantity of
expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the
audience reached (Document F). In other words by limiting the amount of money a company, person, or
group can spend on furthering the candidates campaign incidentally limits the speech and what that
candidate can get across to the public. This connects back to the earlier statement that limits placed on
money, limits the speech, and by using criminal law to do so, in turn uses the illegal practice of
censorship. Every means of communication in todays society requires money to be spent. In an editorial
written in the New York Times, the writer criticizes the court's ruling. This article was written in a
newspaper that has a moderately liberal audience and it is the liberals who were predominantly not in
favor of this ruling. This author writes, a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these
artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to
speak out in support of a candidate(Document N). This is a false statement because that is how the
constitution is supposed to be interpreted. In the concurrent opinion of the US Supreme Court, Justice
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Marley Majette
Pd. 4 AP NSL
January 8, 2016

Scalia along with his other conservative colleagues states, the individual persons right to speak includes
the right to speak in association with other individual persons (Document K). If people are speaking in as
a group, as a company, or association they still are granted the same rights as individual. Congress can not
make distinctions, or establish mitigating factors that would in turn stop information from getting to the
people because it ultimately is enforced by censorship which limits a citizen's right to free speech.
Along with the freedom of speech citizens are granted the freedom to assemble, as it also apart of the
First Amendment. The ongoing debate encompasses the extent of the first amendment, therefore there is a
direct relation between the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly. Connecting the two are the
ideas, precedents, and principles, set in the concurrent decision of this case. The association of
individuals in a business corporation is no different- or at least it cannot be denied the right to speak on the
simplistic ground that it is not an individual american was a mutual and agreed statement of all the
justices. Just because it is not one person exercising their rights as an American citizen, that group of
citizens still is granted their individual rights as a group. There is no difference between one person
sharing their opinions and getting across to the public through all means of communication, than a
corporation or special interest group doing the same thing. The dissenting opinion of the courts had this to
say about the ruling, A regulation such as the BCRA may affect the way in which individuals disseminate
certain messages through the corporate form, but it does not prevent anyone speaking in his or her own
voice (Document J). The fact of the matter is according to the US Constitutions First Amendment,
Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people
peaceably to assemble and to petition to Government (Document C). The BCRA directly affects the first
amendment, because of the limits that are placed on electioneering communications it does in fact
disseminate the messages that a particular organization is trying to get across to the public about a
candidate. The second half of that statement is also a falsity because by misconstruing or distorting a
companys message, it prevents them from speaking. By preventing that company from speaking you are
affecting their afforded freedom of speech. The special interests freedom of speech is being infringed upon
because of the fact that opposers of the ruling have an issue with the assembling of big business and how
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Marley Majette
Pd. 4 AP NSL
January 8, 2016

they go about participating in the election. The freedom of speech and freedom of assembly both fall full
circle with one another. They each affect each other and have a direct cause and effect relationship with
one another. The Citizens United mission statement shows this direct correlation between freedom of
speech and expression. Their mission statement states, Citizens United is an organization dedicated to
restoring our government to citizens control (Document G). The beginning part of the statement, stating
that they are an organization, shows that it is a group of people who, as we can see from the second half of
the statement are dedicated to restoring our government to citizens control. To some interpreters this act
can be done through political speech which means there is a direct relation between the two. Some may
say you can do this without being an organization, however, yet again, it is unlawful to infringe on their
right of freedom of assembly. The freedom to assemble and the right to free speech both are directly
related under the First Amendment. The only reason the minority opinion of this ruling has an issue is
because of the fact that a group of educated citizens are exercising their first amendment rights to
participate in political speech.
Principles of Republican ultimately encompass all the rights and powers of the citizen laid out in First
Amendment. The argument could be made that the principles that the forefathers established and set in
stone centuries ago are being violated. However since both the arguments on freedom of speech and
religion were broken down, and the principle include those two rights, this argument will too be broken
down. Speaking of forefathers, James Madison co-writer of the federalist papers has a firm opinion on
factions, what they are, how to handle them, where they stem from, and how to control them, which he
outlines in Federalist #10. In Federalist #10, Madison writes, relief is only to be sought in the means of
controlling its effects... If a faction consists of less than the a majority, relief is supplied by the republican
principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by a regular vote (Document A).
Madison is saying that to stop the idea or effects of special interests otherwise known as factions, from
altering the election unfairly we must control it through one of the first republican principles of regular
vote. By allowing the public to determine what is true and what isnt. This correlates with the arguments
made in the freedom of speech argument. In the Citizens United v. F.E.C.,2010 the same arguments is
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Marley Majette
Pd. 4 AP NSL
January 8, 2016

made, plus a direct reference to Federalist #10. By leaving it up to the people, the government continues to
promote the overall goal of enforcing these principles of republican government which is democracy. In a
letter from Thomas Jefferson who was an anti federalist unlike James Madison, wrote a letter to Edward
Carrington in 1787 stating, the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army The
people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true
principles of their institution (Document B). This is yet another republican principle of allowing the
people to control what they want to be subjected to. The Government cannot control what corporations or
special interests groups share with the public. Whatever is relayed to the American citizens is what will be
relayed, and what they deem to be fact and fiction is up for them to decide not the government. Teddy
Roosevelt addressed the public in his New Nationalism Speech in 1910. In this speech you can see that
Roosevelt understands that big business has become apart of our capitalist society however, we need to
make sure it has no business in American Politics. Roosevelt states, We must drive the special interests
out of politics [E]very special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress,
to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office (Document M). The way Roosevelt is
looking at special interest is distorted, with the idea that any corporation involved in politics is an
advocate for quid pro quo corruption. However this is not the case. The members of big business are all
going to vote the same way because of the reasons why they are united. Barring special interests from
political agendas and limiting their voice is unconstitutional. It directly violates the principles of
Republican government. Everything should be left up to the people to determine, and if government
continues to try and step in on what the people can determine for the society, then all branches of
government are not promoting a democratic society based on the basic principles of republican
government.
The Supreme Court ruled correctly in the Supreme Court case Citizens United vs F.E.C. on the basis of
the first amendment rights of freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and the principles of Republican
government. The factions that are formed in a Republic are subject to be a creation of the American
society, however government cannot establish distinctions and exceptions for these factions. Congress
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Marley Majette
Pd. 4 AP NSL
January 8, 2016

ruled correctly because by barring what the factions can get out to the people it affects two things : 1) the
freedom of speech rights of the corporations and 2) they are using censorship as an attempt to control what
the public can hear from big interests and what they can't see. The arguments of freedom of speech stems
from the problem the dissenting side of the decision had with the first amendment right of freedom of
assembly. If it wasnt for the fact that big interests wanted to make certain topics known to the public and
influence policy agenda it would have been a unanimous decision. However because people are
questioning the centuries old Constitution, questions have arisen as to what is legal and what is not. The
republican government principles are what the forefathers set in stone in the First Amendment in the first
place. Building a democratic society was their goal, and for todays government to try and infringe on that
is not what they wanted. All three of these arguments tie together and prove that the ruling should stand.
One additional document that would have helped could have possibly been the backgrounds or something
more personal about the justices that made the ruling. A document like that would have helped shown bias
and context to add depth to the essay.