“The irony here is that people and groups are gathering together to speak out against a case that protected the right of people and groups to gather together and speak out. We don’t lose our freedom of speech by exercising our freedom of association.”
Arlington, Va.—Tomorrow, January 21, 2012, marks the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. As proponents of campaign finance restrictions prepare to protest the decision, the Institute for Justice (IJ), the nation’s only libertarian public interest law firm, is standing up to defend that ruling.
“Citizens United recognized that the First Amendment is about protecting speech, not about protecting favored speakers,” said IJ Senior Attorney Steve Simpson, who authored the friend-of-the-court brief IJ submitted in Citizens United v. FEC. “Congress has no more power to ban speech by American corporations than it does to ban speech from any American who wishes to add his voice to the political debate.”
Opponents of Citizens United commonly argue that the decision is flawed because it held that “corporations are people.” But as Simpson noted, “Citizens United simply recognized that corporations are associations of people—and those real people don’t lose their First Amendment rights merely because they associate with one another to make their speech more effective.”
“Simply put,” Simpson said, “if individuals have free speech rights, citizens who band together as unions and corporations also have free speech rights. We don’t lose our freedom of speech by exercising our freedom of association.”
Simpson continued, “The irony here is that people and groups are gathering together to speak out against a case that protected the right of people and groups to gather together and speak out.”
Opponents of Citizens United also claim that the ruling held that “money is speech.” But, as IJ-WA Executive Director Bill Maurer noted, “The Supreme Court did not hold that money is speech, but that money facilitates speech. If Congress can control the amount of money you can spend on speech, then it can ban any speech that carries beyond the sound of your own voice.”
Maurer continued, “The critics of Citizens United ultimately have a problem with the First Amendment and the fact that it prevents the government from placing caps on political speech. They want regulated speech, rather than a free marketplace of ideas. And for some reason, they trust the government to set and enforce strict limits on how much speech occurs in a debate about, of all things, who should govern us. This viewpoint is completely inconsistent with our nation’s history and flies in the face of long-established constitutional rights as well as limits on the power of government.”
IJ Attorney Paul Sherman added, “Absent from almost every attack on Citizens United is any description of what the case was actually about. At its core, Citizens United concerned a law that gave the federal government the power to fine or imprison people if they used money from a corporate or union treasury to pay for political speech. The government was literally asserting the power to ban the distribution of a political documentary and even pamphlets or books. Nothing could be more antithetical to the First Amendment.” Simpson concluded, “
In our society, the government has no place limiting certain voices because they might prove too influential. The Framers recognized that individuals, not the government, have the right to decide what to say and what messages to listen to. Those who believe in freedom should defend Citizens United. If we ignore freedom of speech, we will surely lose it.” For more information on Citizens United, Super PACs, and other campaign finance issues, visit IJ’s First Amendment blog, Congress Shall Make No Law, at www.makenolaw.org.
For more information, visit www.ij.org/FirstAmendment.
IJ’s Citizens United brief is available at www.ij.org/citizensunited.