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Argument: Govt has no authority to selectively offer free speech

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Supporting quotations

Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission 5-4 Majority Opinion of the Court: "Less than two years after Buckley, Bellotti, 435 U. S. 765, reaffirmed the First Amendment principle that theGovernment cannot restrict political speech based on thespeaker’s corporate identity. Bellotti could not have been clearer when it struck down a state-law prohibition on corporate independent expenditures related to referenda issues:

“We thus find no support in the First . . . Amend-ment, or in the decisions of this Court, for the proposi-tion that speech that otherwise would be within the protection of the First Amendment loses that protec-tion simply because its source is a corporation that cannot prove, to the satisfaction of a court, a material effect on its business or property. . . . [That proposi-tion] amounts to an impermissible legislative prohibi-tion of speech based on the identity of the interests that spokesmen may represent in public debate over controversial issues and a requirement that thespeaker have a sufficiently great interest in the sub-ject to justify communication.

“In the realm of protected speech, the legislature is constitutionally disqualified from dictating the sub-jects about which persons may speak and the speak-ers who may address a public issue.” Id., at 784–785.

It is important to note that the reasoning and holding of Bellotti did not rest on the existence of a viewpoint-discriminatory statute. It rested on the principle that theGovernment lacks the power to ban corporations fromspeaking.

Bellotti did not address the constitutionality of the State’s ban on corporate independent expenditures to support candidates. In our view, however, that restriction would have been unconstitutional under Bellotti’s central principle: that the First Amendment does not allow politi-cal speech restrictions based on a speaker’s corporateidentity. See ibid."

Floyd Abrams, a well-known progressive First Amendment lawyer, argued for lifting restrictions on corporate speech/spending in elections in Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission: "We should not make technical distinctions about the degree of First Amendment speech" rights, depending on the nature of the entity that engages in the speech –– we [would] then go down the road to start defining press entities which will get the protection [and] speech entities which will not get the protection, and I don’t think that’s a place we want to be."[1]

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