Today on the web site of the Center for Journalism Ethics, SJMC professor and media law expert Robert Drechsel reviews the controversial decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a federal law that prohibited corporations from spending general treasury funds to advocate the election or defeat of political candidates. Dreschel argues that the ruling reveals the limits of libertarianism on political speech issues.
When the U.S. Supreme Court uses the power of judicial review to strike down a major federal statute and in the process overrules two of its own recent precedents, it’s significant news.
When every justice who votes to do so was appointed by Republican presidents critical of judicial activism and advocating a limited role for the judiciary, it’s bigger news.
When the decision gives major First Amendment rights to business corporations — themselves entities created by government — it’s even bigger news.
And when the decision explicitly grants those corporations the right to spend as much corporate money as they please on communication designed to get certain candidates elected or defeated, it’s a blockbuster.
This, of course, is precisely what happened on Jan. 21 in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission when the Court by a 5-4 margin struck down a federal law (and by logical extension any similar state laws) that prohibited corporations from spending general treasury funds to advocate the election or defeat of political candidates. In doing so, the Court overruled a 20-year-old precedent to the contrary and a seven-year-old precedent that had explicitly upheld the constitutionality of the very law now being struck down.
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