by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Ten years ago, the Supreme Court overturned portions of a federal law that empowered government to dictate how Americans who were not connected to any candidates and political parties could practice their inherent right of free expression.
The case of Citizens United revolved around state efforts to ban a conservative non-profit group from showing a documentary it produced critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton right before the 2008 Democratic primary elections. At the time McCain-Feingold made it illegal for corporations and labor unions to engage in “electioneering communication” one month before a primary or two months before the general election.
Or, in other words, the law, written by politicians who function without restrictions on speech — and applauded by much of a mass media that functions without any restrictions on speech — prohibited Americans from pooling their resources and engaging in the most vital form of expression at the most important time, in the days leading up to an election.
“By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others,” Justice Anthony Kennedy would write for the majority, “the Government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice.” …
… [T]he court hadn’t overturned a century of law (though the age of the law bears absolutely no relevance to constitutionality of it). Citizens United reversed portions of a law, less than a decade old, that forbad Americans from contributing as much as they wanted directly to the funding of speech. Corporations would still be banned from donating directly to candidates, as they had been since 1907.