Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

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Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is a controversial 2010 Supreme Court of the United States decision[1] that First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution rights applied to corporations as well as biological persons, reversing laws that restricted direct corporate-paid advertising on behalf of, or against, candidates. Corporations are still not allowed to make direct contributions to campaighs.. It is a victory for the corporate rights movement, a broader initiative to extend the originally narrow definition of a corporation as a legal person, to an entity that has the rights of biological people.

The Court decided a matter that began with the request for injunctive relief by Citizens United, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation, against the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA or McCain-Feingold), as administered by the Federal Election Commission, which prohibits corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech that is an “electioneering communication” or for speech that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate [2].

In January 2008, appellant Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation, produced a documentary, Hillary, critical of then-Senator Hillary Clinton, a candidate for her party’s Presidential nomination. Anticipating that it would make Hillary available on cable television the through video-on-demand within 30 days of primary elections, Citizens United produced television ads to run on broadcast and cable television. Concerned about possible civil and criminal penalties for violating §441b, it sought declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that

  • (1) §441b is unconstitutional as applied to Hillary;
  • (2) BCRA’s disclaimer, disclosure, and reporting requirements, BCRA §§201 and 311, were unconstitutional as applied to Hillary and the ads.

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia denied Citizens United a preliminary injunction and granted appellee Federal Election Commission (FEC) summary judgment.

Parties to the Case

Citizens United's lead attorney was Theodore Olson. Elena Kagan argued the government side.

Case law

The decisions

Decided by a 5-4 vote, the majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Justice John Paul Stevens dissented, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.



Political tactics




  1. (130 S. Ct. 876)
  2. 2 U. S. C. §441
  3. 540 U. S. 93, 203–209
  4. 494 U.S. 652