Can the government suppress free speech critical of elected politicians? In the home of the First Amendment, that may seem an unusual question to pose. But that was the question before the Supreme Court this week, as it handed down a landmark ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down a ban on corporations and labor unions using money from their general funds to produce and air campaign ads in races for Congressional and presidential races. Also overturned was a ban on corporations and unions airing campaign ads 30 days before primary or 60 days before general election.
The case in question dates back to January 2008, when the conservative non-profit group Citizens United produced a documentary critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton titled Hillary: The Movie. When the Federal Election commission used the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law to limit Citizen United’s ability to advertise the film during the 2008 presidential primaries, the group sued to protest the restriction on free speech.
This week, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizen United’s favor. In so doing, it won approval from free-speech advocates and strident criticism from many on the political Left.
Bear in mind that this was a "bitterly contested," 5-4 split decision.
It all started with David Bossie, "a veteran Republican campaign operative who made his mark investigating the Clintons, thought his group could offer a conservative answer to Michael Moore’s successful films. After Moore’s 'Fahrenheit 9/11' premiered in 2004, Bossie’s Citizens United group released 'Celsius 41.11.'And after it became clear that Bossie’s longtime enemy Hillary Rodham Clinton would run for president, Citizens United released another flick: 'Hillary: The Movie.' Featuring a who’s-who cast of right-wing commentators, the 2008 film takes viewers on a savaging journey through Clinton’s scandals. The sole compliment about the then-senator comes from conservative firebrand Ann Coulter: 'Looks good in a pantsuit.' But 'Hillary: The Movie' never became a blockbuster. The Federal Election Commission restricted Citizens United’s ability to advertise the film during the 2008 primary season, a decision that Bossie and other conservative activists saw as a threat to their freedom of speech. 'The marketplace for my movie was completely and totally shut down by the Federal Election Commission,' Bossie said in an interview Thursday. So he sued -- and thus was born Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
"Bossie said Ted Olson was 'singularly responsible for our winning this case.' Olson transformed the case from a narrow one about McCain-Feingold to an assault on the law's constitutionality, helping crystallize the issue for the justices. When the Supreme Court first heard the case in March, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm L. Stewart, representing the FEC --" this is Obama's lawyer "-- was pulled into a discussion of an issue that took him down a slippery slope: If the movie were a book, would the government ban publishing the book if it mentioned a candidate for office within the election timeframe?" And this guy representing the FEC said, yes, the government would ban the book, and the justices shot up, stood up and said what the hell are you talking about. 'That's pretty incredible,' Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said. Then came questions about electronic devices such as the Kindle. 'If it has one name, one use of the candidate's name, it would be covered, correct?' Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked. 'That's correct,' Stewart replied. 'It's a 500-page book, and at the end it says, 'And so vote for X,' the government could ban that?' Roberts asked." The government lawyer said yes. He had to. If he's going to ban a movie, he's gotta be consistent. "Bossie said this was the argument that turned a majority of the bench against the FEC and in favor of Citizens United."
Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas supported the reversal of the lower courts decision. Opposed were Breyer, Ginsburg, Stevens and Sotomayor. It is frightening to think that only one vote made the difference; that four out of nine Supreme Court Justices have so little regard for Constitutional freedoms (except of course for criminals and terrorists).
From the WashPost article, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm L. Stewart, representing the FEC, doomed the government's case:
"That sent a chill down the Supreme Court," Bossie said. The argument became a "point of demarcation."
Citizens United spent about $1.25 million in legal fees on the case -- so much, Bossie said, that it "makes you cry."
But, he said, it was worth every dollar.
"We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years," Bossie said. "We brought the case hoping that this would happen. . . . to defeat McCain-Feingold."
And why was this so important? Our freedom is under seige from socialists and their corrupt union allies. Read what SEIU President Andy Stern had to say about the 2008 Presidential elections and how one union alone can make a diffference:
"We spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama -- $60.7 million to be exact -- and we're proud of it."
The behemoth labor organization's leadership is getting its money's worth. Whether rank-and-file workers and ordinary taxpayers are profiting from this ultimate campaign pay-for-play scheme is another matter entirely.
The two-million-member union, which represents both government and private service employees, proudly claimed that its workers "knocked on 1.87 million doors, made 4.4 million phone calls and sent more than 2.5 million pieces of mail in support of Obama." It dispatched SEIU leaders to seven states in the final weekend before the election to get out the vote for Obama and other Democrats.
Through a series of local chapter takeovers and bully campaigns to destroy the reputation of executives who refuse to submit to their will, Stern and his scandal-plagued lieutenants have consolidated low-skill service workers to create a 21st century labor empire. The ubiquitous Stern now enjoys a prominent seat at the table of every major policy discussion at the White House, including economic recovery and health care radicalization.