Supreme Court Mashup – Citizen’s United Edition

The Citizens United decision was arrived at through a two-pronged argument based on previous jurisprudence by the Court: that spending money in an election is a form of political speech and therefore comes within the purview of the First Amendment; and that corporations are also entitled to constitutional protections and therefore their expenditures during an election are also covered by the First Amendment. This debate focuses on the first premise of that argument: is the expenditure of money in an election a form of speech for the purpose of the First Amendment?

I googled “good debates” and found  The first debate I found was This House believes the expenditure of money should be protected as speech.  I am not sure why the title listed “House” instead of “Supreme Court”?  In any case, the quote above sums up the argument for the Citizens United decision.

It states the decisions is based on two stare decisis:

1) Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad that granted 14th Amendment protection to corporations.

2) Buckley v. Valeo forbade restrictions on personal expenditure on political campaigns.

Prefacing my statements in this post that I am not a lawyer or legal scholar but do feel the Supreme Court cherry picked both of these cases in order to carry out their decision.

First of all, in the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case, the decision didn’t grant 14th Amendment protection to corporations.  Rather, the defense merely invoked 14th Amendment protection for their client who happens to be a corporation. But, this was never relevant to the court’s decision.

Second of all, in Buckley v. Valeo, the decision grants individuals protection from laws that sets a limit to the amount of personal or group campaign spending expenditures.  Notice this decision does not remove limits on political donations but only on political expenditures.

Somehow, the Supreme Court mashed these two decision together to define a corporation to be 1) a person or group that is protected equally under the law and 2) no campaign donation limit can be set as long as donation is not directly to the candidate.

Lastly, I do think it is arbitrary for the court to define an expenditure as protected by freedom of speech.  It is just wrong on so many levels.  Here is a summary of the court’s argument:

The electorate’s increasing dependence on television, radio, and other mass media for news and information has made these expensive modes of communication indispensable instruments of effective political speech. [source]

However, this only defines the means in which the speech is communicated is protected and not the speech itself which completely deviates the First Amendment that protects speech or expression of ideas.  Freedom of speech does not guarantee citizens they will attain the most effective media vehicle that money can buy for one to deliver his or her message.  The law only prohibits other laws from abridging expression of the message itself.

Summary: The Supreme Court created out of thin air that 1) Corporations are equal to citizen individuals and/or groups and 2) campaign donation is the same as campaign expenditures.  Rather, I think both of these new definitions ought to be determined whether is legal by legislative process before it can be decided as to whether these definitions fit constitutional requirements by the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court cannot both decide what the definition is then declare it to be constitutionally fit.  But, it did so by method of cherry picking stare decisis – purposely misrepresenting the Santa Clara County case and falsely equivocating expenditure to be same as donation in the Buckley case.


  • madihwa

    Yes, that’s just unfair on so many levels. Regarding corporations as citizens gives them so much more power than ordinary citizens. It renders us obsolete.