U.S. Supreme Court

Campaign Finance Law Takes a Beating in Supreme Court Arguments


The U.S. Supreme Court appears ready to strike down or curtail restrictions on campaign spending by corporations, according to several reports on today’s oral arguments.

Swing voter Anthony M. Kennedy appeared to side with the First Amendment argument against the spending restriction, repeatedly referring to “an ongoing chill” on the speech of corporations, according to The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.

The New York Times says there seemed little question that a documentary filmmaker challenging the corporate finance restrictions would win the case. “The only open question was how broad that victory would be,” the newspaper says. The law at issue bans broadcast of “electioneering communications” by corporations for 30 days before primary elections and 60 days before general elections.

Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson argued on behalf of the filmmaker, a conservative nonprofit group called Citizens United. The Federal Election Commission had cited the campaign finance law to ban the group’s documentary deriding Hillary Clinton from on-demand cable television in the days before the primary.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan, in her first Supreme Court oral argument, “all but said that a loss for the government would be acceptable, so long as it was on narrow grounds,” the New York Times says.

The Times outlined possible narrow rulings. For example, the court could find the campaign finance law did not apply to the Clinton documentary, to broadcasts available only through a cable company’s on-demand service, or to the advocacy group that produced the film.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, participating in her first oral argument on the U.S. Supreme Court, asked her first question 25 minutes into the session, USA Today reports. She challenged an assertion by Olson that the campaign finance law was complicated and difficult to follow.

The Washington Post also covered the arguments.

The case is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

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