Voting Rights and Democracy

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission involved a broad challenge to Congress’s authority to regulate campaign spending by corporations.

Case Summary

On the last day of the 2008 October Term, the Supreme Court ordered new briefing on whether two key precedents –including a part of McConnell v. FEC, which upheld the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law– should be overruled. On July 31, CAC filed a brief with the League of Women Voters of the United States, explaining that the text and history of our Constitution make clear that campaign expenditures by corporations can be subject to greater regulation than expenditures by individuals.

Starting with the founders, who wrote the Constitution to protect “We the People” and never mentioned “corporations,” our constitutional story has been one of democratic progress, moving American democracy toward broader enfranchisement and more meaningful political participation for individual American citizens. Regulation of corporate influence in elections has helped make this march of progress possible. Before the first campaign finance legislation was passed in 1907, our country was at risk of becoming, as former President Rutherford Hayes wrote in his diary, “a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations.” If the Court reverses key precedents allowing regulation of corporate money in elections, corporate influence could once again threaten to overwhelm electoral politics in the United States.

On September 9, 2009, the court re-heard arguments in the case. The following is a statement by CAC’s President and Founder, Doug Kendall, on the oral argument:

“The Court’s newest Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, rightly focused debate today on constitutional first principles: our Constitution was established for the benefit of “we the people,” and never uses the word “corporation.”  Since the dawn of the Republic, the Court has recognized that corporations are artificial entities that enjoy unique advantages and must therefore be subject to greater government oversight. If the Court turns its back on this constitutional text and history, it will blatantly disregard the will of the people and unleash corporate influence on elections.”

In a special session on Thursday, January 21st, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, reversing the judgment of the D.C. Circuit Court.

For further explanation of why we feel this case was wrongly decided, read our Text and History narrative report about corporations and the Constitution.

On March 10, 2010 Doug Kendall testified on Citizens United before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Read his written testimony here; for more information about the hearing, to read member statements or watch a video of the hearing go to the official site of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

Case Timeline